HEART OF THE MATTER

Posted on Nov 05, 2012

A heartbeat? Could have sworn I heard a heartbeat. You know: that washing-machine-like lub-dub, lub-dub. It sounded real, too, coming from somewhere deep inside me but also all around me, too.

Lub-dub, lub-dub.

Sitting in the cafeteria of De Sales Hall, I looked up through the big hole in the ceiling, the atrium that connected the student lounge above to the cafeteria below. Some guys were leaning over the wall, and together they were producing the sound, lub-dub, lub-dub, deep in their throats, lub-dub, lub-dub, mouths closed, lub-dub, lub-dub, jaws working, lub-dub, lub-dub, in perfect unison.

A bunch of biology majors (really); they called themselves WGASA (pronounced wuh-GAH-suh); I have no idea what it stood for. Their sound overwhelmed the space, silencing all else, bringing the place to a halt. They kept it going for as long as they could, filling the lounge, the cafeteria, The Atrium, until they cracked up laughing.

The Atrium!

The WGASA guys, they got it right. The Atrium was the heart of the matter.

One of the goals of CENTAUR SEASONS is to find and identify the very things that made the earliest days of Allentown College not just different but special and unique. The “Secrets of the Centaur,” I call them. Surely The Atrium is one of these secrets.

DeSales Hall housed the entire school. Classrooms, science labs, cafeteria, lounge, game room, offices, bookstore, library, lecture hall/theater. Once you were there, everything was right … there. And deep within throbbed The Atrium.

You couldn’t escape The Atrium, even if you wanted to. Empty space that connected a blue-carpeted student lounge and a tan tile-floored cafeteria. Empty space that made two places one. Empty space that every day got filled with everything happening in the place.

“It was amazing,” remembers Bob Stormes, a four-year Centaur forward. “The whole school was right there.”

From the lounge you could lean against The Atrium wall, look down and inspect the lunch menu as people ate it. From the cafeteria you could look up and stay in touch with the comings and goings above. It was a brilliant piece of architecture and surely no accident. With skylights in the cathedral ceiling, the space did its Latin root proud – the main room of a Roman house; a chamber of the heart.  The Atrium was likely nowhere near as large as I remember it. No matter: its significance remains immense.

“The beauty of the Atrium wasn’t just that it was right in the middle of the campus,” says Joe Thomson, a point guard a year behind me. “It’s that during the day almost everyone would be there at the same time.”

Scant exaggeration. My senior year there were maybe 600 students at Allentown College. (On Tuesdays and Thursdays, at least, with the nurses from Sacred Heart Hospital bused in.) On a busy afternoon nearly all of us would be in DeSales Hall at one point or another, with most of us going to, coming from, walking through or actually BEING IN The Atrium, the place and the space bustling and bursting, already outgrowing itself.

John O’Connell, a team manager, was a freshman when I was a senior, the last year of The Atrium era. Between classes, John says, (or, uh, instead of going to the library), you could always go to The Atrium and hang in the lounge. Because someone you knew would always be there.

“I remember sitting around in those low-back chairs,” he says. “You could tilt them back and balance yourself and just sit there for a while.” Or, you know, for an hour or two, part of The Atrium’s pulse even as you took its pulse. Meanwhile, the juke box down in the cafeteria provided soundtrack. “I remember the Rolling Stones’ song, ‘Angie’ being played a lot,” John says. “I learned to hate that song.”

Talent shows, faux Johnny Carson and Bob Hope Christmas shows, boxing and wrestling matches, raffle drawings, student government meetings, you name it, everything took place in the cafeteria, with additional viewing upstairs around the lounge walls. But it wasn’t the special events that made The Atrium special. It was the mere fact of it presence, its everyday existence, its nondescript perfection.

The whole place in one space.

If you can remember The Atrium, you were at Allentown College during the school’s first identifiable era. Conveniently, this era encompasses these CENTAUR SEASONS.  The Atrium – symbolically, at least — contributes greatly, I think, to that certain wistfulness that often overtakes when talk turns to the Allentown College of memory, back then, right then. If in fact everyone really did know everyone else (as we remember it today), the Atrium is surely a reason why. Every college should have its Atrium.

The year after I graduated, the new student union center opened. It plucked the cafeteria out from underneath The Atrium, reducing the place to empty space. Whatever the school had been, it was now on its way to whatever it was going to be next.

Mark Trinkle was another freshman when I was a senior. (Speaking of next: He was the team’s first scholarship player.) I see him in a corner of The Atrium, well ensconced within a group that called itself “The Ritz.”

“I remember The Atrium, oh, yeah!,” Mark said when I called him up. He talked of how “closed” and “confined” the whole atrium thing felt, how much he loved that. Mark was a commuter, but one who really immersed himself in the college rhythm. Being a basketball player was a lot of that, he said, but so was The Atrium.

“We didn’t have all the buildings. We didn’t have all the amenities. We were roughing it. And there wasn’t much happening in Center Valley. We had to make it happen. What made it valuable was your group of friends. You spent a lot of time with them, hanging out.”

And then his sophomore year the student union opened and the school kind of exploded. “We lost a lot of that closeness, that tightness,” Mark said, and he acknowledged that it took a couple of his years there for the school to find its way again. But it did. Moving to the student union, he said, “It broadened the horizons of the school.”

The Atrium was long ago redesigned out of existence. It was, observes Joe Thomson, as if the school finally said, “ ‘Look, we can’t keep living around this little atrium. We have to make changes.’ ”

The thing is, as Mark pointed out to me, all of those changes, all of what came next — Allentown College of St. So-On-and-So-Forth renamed DeSales University; Centaurs replaced by Bulldogs; four lonely buildings multiplied into dozens – all that, Mark said, “It all grew from The Atrium.”

Once more from WGASA: lub-dub, lub-dub.

On November 8th, 2012 at 1:47 pm, Sharon Barr said:

WGASA = who gives a s— anyway. Just thought you should know.


On November 8th, 2012 at 1:49 pm, Maryanne Janus Weiss said:

You captured it! And to hear that Okie and Mark Trinkle are still alive and kicking. I agree about “Angie!” I remember the pinchole tournaments in the Atruim! So glad I was a part of the Atrium years, even if only for one year.


On November 8th, 2012 at 6:40 pm, tom marino said:

Thanks
Thomas N Marino, D.O.
Class of 1973


On November 9th, 2012 at 2:56 pm, Jim Greene said:

Steve, you got it right.
One atrium (lounge)to hang out in, one classroom building to go to classes in, one library to study in, one cafeteria to eat in, one chapel to go to Mass in, and one gym to shoot hoops or work out in meant that you could not go one day without seeing just about everyone at the college.



 
     

Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS: A ‘memory blog’ of the basketball beginnings of a half-good, half-bad, all-new college team.

Once, I was a Centaur.

I played basketball for Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa. I was on four of the school’s first seven teams, was MVP senior year and in 1974 graduated in the fifth class.

My junior year I kept a diary: A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee.  One-hundred-forty-five hand-writ pages. (Yes, I was an English major.)

But it occurs to me now: Were I today a “Bulldog” playing for “DeSales University” (both mascot and name changed in 2000), my private “History” would be not a diary but a blog.

So starting November 30  “…Personal Memoirs…” will be re-imagined as CENTAUR SEASONS

A blog before its time, posted 40 years after in real time.

Meanwhile, beginning on September 24, here at CENTAUR SEASONS the preseason has already tipped off, with stories, interviews and reminiscences of the people, the place and the purpose of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Check back often. Sign up for CentaurSeasonAlerts. Email CENTAUR SEASONS to friends.

We were not a bad team, we Centaurs. We just weren’t very good. Winning was always the goal, if never exactly the point. How could it be, with victories so few?

Back then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was a couple of buildings in some cornfields.  Our commitment to the school’s basketball program was far greater than was the school’s commitment us. So what? We got to play college ball – and paid for the privilege! In return, we got to be part of a team, wear the red and blue, be Centaurs. And we got to create a place that was, right then, as much concept as it was college, making itself up as we went along.

What we got was a once-in-a-life-time chance.

All we had to do was keep showing up -- next practice, next game, next season. And so we did.

Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS.

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