SO LONG, SARTAIN: Memories of performances in historic gym will last forever

Published 3:00 am Sunday, July 22, 2018

As the many people with ties to Troy University’s Sartain Hall gathered Tuesday afternoon to bid farewell to the storied structure, the collective sentiment was “if these ol’ walls could talk.”

Sartain Hall has been a part on the Troy University landscape for 56 years. Tens of thousands of students and townspeople have fond memories of times there. Memories of games won and lost, of classes passed and failed, of friendships shared, of times well spent.

In the coming days, the old gymnasium will be razed to make way for a wellness center for the university and the campus landscape will be changed.

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Perhaps no tears will be shed for Sartain. After all, change is a part of the dance called progress. Time will move on but memories will linger.

Joyce Sorrell came to Troy University in 1968 to teach and later coach women’s basketball. She retired after 39 years at the university. For her, Sartain Hall was home away from home.

A decade after her retirement, Sorrell can still hear basketballs bouncing and the banter of friendly competition.

“Teaching and coaching was my life,” she said. “I’ll always remember the students and the athletes. I taught and coached some great ones. They worked hard and played hard. Sartain was the place where they learned about winning and losing, lessons that carried over into life. Many of them have gone on to outstanding careers and to be contributing members of society. What they learned and experienced at Sartain played a role in all of that.”

Sartain was “the heart of the majors” and Sorrell said those “majors” surely have a heart for Sartain.

“We offered an extramural program where students had opportunities to compete with people outside the university and that was a good opportunity for our students,” Sorrell said.

Physical education classes were required so many students had a strong association with Sartain. They took basketball, volleyball and badminton in Sartain and first aid and HYPER classes.

“We offered ballroom dancing and other dance classes and we had the Dixie Darlings, who were young kids that clogged. They performed at pep rallies and at basketball games. They were a big hit.”

Of course, basketball games brought students, alumni and the community together for the fun and excitement of college basketball, including the men’s record-setting 258 points against DeVry that secured Troy and Sartain Hall a place in collegiate basketball history.

For those who tossed their mortarboards as high as their hopes, Sartain Hall was the place of new beginnings.

But Sartain was not just a place for athletics, studies and graduations; three times a year, the hall was transformed into a concert hall where top entertainers performed for packed houses.

Ron Pierce was at the helm of it all. Pierce was director of the Adams Center Union Board and had the responsibility of scheduling the concerts at Sartain.

“The students purchased a program sticker for maybe $12 that got them into the concerts and the weekly free movies,” Pierce said. “There were no computers or video games and students were proud to have something to do.”

The concerts were highly anticipated and well attended by students and members of the community.

“We brought in big name entertainers,” Pierce said. “We paid around $20,000 for performers that included Jimmy Buffet, The Beach Boys, Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap, The Spinners, Helen Reddy, Linda Ronstadt and Harry Chapin.

“The performers were accommodating,” he said. “Dolly Parton was a great. She’s down to earth and she’s not shy. She was interviewed on local radio and talked with people around town. Everybody liked her.”

Pierce and his wife, Susan, met the Beach Boys at the airport and had a meal with them on the plane. Pierce picked Chapin up at the airport and, on the way to the concert, he sat on the back seat and played the guitar and sang.

“Only once was there a problem. A fight broke out on the floor the night of Ronnie Milsap’s concert and his performance had to be stopped momentarily,” Pierce said.

The only other blemish on the Sartain Hall concerts occurred in Tuscaloosa.

“Jimmy Buffet appeared in Tuscaloosa after being in Troy,” Pierce said. “On stage there he said, ‘This sure beats the hell out of Troy State.’ I didn’t know what that meant. We had a great crowd and it was a great performance. I’ve never understood.”

In time, the performers required more money and Sartain Hall was no longer capable of handling the sound and lighting required for entertainers like Chicago, Tina Turner and Huey Lewis and the News. The concerts were moved to Montgomery but university students with program stickers had prime floor seating.

“But those big city concerts never really measured up to Sartain,” Pierce said. “The closeness of the space – within the audience and to the performers – made Sartain a special place for concerts.”

Sartain Hall was a special place in its time. And it will continue to be a special place for those who harbor memories of bouncing basketballs, star-studded concerts and little girls in cloggin’ shoes.