Dec. 10, 2012
John Byczek, Texas Media Relations
Frank Craig Erwin Jr. is the man behind what many Austinites have nicknamed "The Drum." As the Chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, he was at the forefront of the University's business affairs, but he will always be remembered as the man who wanted to create memories through experiences for UT students and the Central Texas community alike.
Passionate about the state of Texas and The University of Texas, 35 years ago he came up with a unique way to unite the two. His vision would create a multi-use facility to present educational, entertainment and cultural activities to not only the students at Texas, but also the city of Austin and all of Central Texas.
Last month, the Frank C. Erwin Jr. Special Events Center celebrated its 35th anniversary of doing just what the mastermind behind it all envisioned.
"Frank Erwin, in the 1970's, was one of the strongest men in Texas," said Men's Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds. "His influence has touched everybody. His influence was unparalleled. What he's done to tie The University to the city was huge. He had vision at a time when he could have impact."
Almost 26 million people have stepped into the Erwin Center since opening night on Nov. 29, 1977. The Erwin Center's primary purpose has always been to house Texas Basketball. So, it appropriately opened with UT's women's basketball team defeating Temple College, 67-64, followed by the men's basketball team beating the University of Oklahoma, 83-76.
The first sellout at the Erwin Center was a Lawrence Welk concert in March of 1978. The largest crowd in the arena's history was in May of 1978, when 17,829 people came to watch John Denver perform. Jan. 14, 1978 marked the first basketball sellout, when 16,388 fans poured into the Erwin Center to watch the men's basketball team take on Southwestern Conference rival Arkansas.
Since January of 1978, the Erwin Center has played host to men's and women's NCAA Basketball first and second rounds, regionals and the first sold-out women's basketball Final Four in 1987. This year, the Erwin Center will host the 2013 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Second/Third Rounds.
In all, the arena hosts about 300 events a year that range from sporting events to family shows, high school graduations to college commencements.
"We have a really great crew that runs 24 hours a day," said John Graham, UT's Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director who oversees all bookings at the Erwin Center. "We have a night crew and a day crew. Operating 24 hours a day is the kind of thing that you see in most major arenas around the country, whether it's New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Houston or San Antonio. This way they can do back-to-back events."
Just like the city of Austin, the speakers and events held at the Erwin Center are very unique. U.S. presidents, the Dalai Lama, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, the Davis Cup, the Harlem Globetrotters, Ringling Brothers Circus, Sesame Street Live and music sensations from all generations have all been showcased center stage.
"The people who have been there and the variety of events that the Erwin Center hosts sets a standard for Austin," said Dodds. "It's been a center point for the school and the city. It speaks to the diversity of the University and the city. It mirrors what the city of Austin is."
As Frank Erwin wanted to provide a place for entertainment at the Special Events Center, he also wanted to display the importance UT puts on education. Whether it's elaborate Texas graduations celebrating the time students spent at Texas, or high school graduations for the greater Austin community, Erwin's mission was not forgotten.
"I think education takes so many forms," said former women's basketball coach Jody Conradt. "The Erwin Center presents so many opportunities to students to experience the broader world. Even more than that, so many people and children come to the Erwin Center who never knew that they have access to a university like the University of Texas at Austin. It shows how it's possible to take advantage of this wonderful institution."
The Erwin Center was more than an arena and more than a basketball court to Conradt.
"It became a classroom to me," she said. "It was so much a part of my experiences here. I looked forward to going there everyday and working with highly skilled and highly motivated players."
The arena has presented fascinating performances, speeches and athletic events, but it has also hosted memorial services for iconic figures who have passed on –most recently Texas legend Darrell K Royal.
Whether it is remembering those before us, or creating new memories, the Erwin Center is about the experience. It's a place where people can have fun and feel good.
Dodds remembers a variety of nail-biting basketball victories. Conradt will never forget watching her team run out of tunnel to thousands of cheering fans. Graham remembers a picture taken during an event.
"I used to have this photograph where a little boy was looking at the Sesame Street performance, his face was all lit up with a big smile and his parents were looking at him and their faces were all lit up with big smiles," Graham said. "There's different kinds of experiences that can occur, but that's why we're here and that's what we're trying to do: create a place to have a good time and feel good."
Frank C. Erwin Jr. would be proud of his now 35-year-old creation. It has done all that he envisioned, and more. Frank Erwin Jr. and his Special Events Center will always be an integral part of the University of Texas.
"It will always be a big part of our history, and it will continue to be a big part of Texas," Dodds said.