Johnston Gym Articles
Even though they ended the season with the worst record in school history, the Davidson basketball team finished on a positive note. A last-second loss at home, a big win in Johnston Gym’s last game, and a well-played defeat on the road foretold of better seasons to come for the Wildcats. Next year will open a new era, in more ways than one.
Saturday’s game versus Central Florida was an appropriate one to close the Johnston Gym era for the Wildcats. Davidson never trailed and too a 36-30 halftime lead when Edward Gaines scored with four seconds left. Clutch free-throw shooting put the game away, however, as the Cats outscored the Knights the rest of the way for a 75-64 victory. The squad’s 7-24 final record set a school record for losses, but next season promises to be better. The team only losses one senior to graduation and will move into the new 6,000-seat Belk Arena next year. The new basketball facility will be an improvement for fans and players alike, but the memories and traditions of Johnston Gym will also carry over.
Today, Johnston Gym sits there on the Davidson campus, antiquated and worn by its 40 years. It is a relic of a time when the jitterbug and the two-handed set shot set pulses pounding.
Charles Worth Johnston of Carrabus County, a Davidson grad and cotton manufacturer for whom the building was named, has been long in his grave. Next Fall, the Wildcats move across the street and head into the ’90s playing in 6,000-seat Belk Arena inside the new Baker Sports Complex.
Johnston Gym’s glory days were conceived with the first game Lefty Driesell ever coached. That was in December 1960, when fourth ranked Wake Forest came into Johnston with coach Bones McKinney, All-American Len Chapell, and playmaker Billy Packer. Davidson knocked off the Deacons 65-59, and it was easy to believe the Wildcats might never lose again in Johnston Gym. They did. The next game. To Catawba 54-52.
But the spirit of Johnston – already being called a little gym – was born.
The next season, Davidson did become unbeatable on campus – a string that lasted almost a decade – as they won 59 straight games in Johnston Gym from 1962-1971. Those teams under Driesell and later Terry Holland – the first recruit Driesell signed in 1960 – first team All-Americans in Fred Hetzel, Dick Snyder, and Mike Maloy.
But it couldn’t last. When Holland left in 1974, the program faltered. Gyms don’t have winning streaks. Coaches and players do. Davidson endured 11 straight losing seasons, still going 45-29 on campus against the dregs of its schedule.
Johnston Gym’s brightest light in that time was John Gerdy (’79), a 6-5 wing who set the school scoring record with 2,483 points. Now Gerdy and the others have come and gone, and so has an era. Now most of the games are back on campus. The 1986 team even went 12-0 in Johnston and continued a 19-game winning streak into the next season.
Lights out Johnston Gym. It’s time to move on.
- The first game, Dec. 1949, a 66-49 loss to Duke.
- A record of 211-115 (64.6%) in Johnston Gym
- A 59-game winning streak from 1962-1971
- The start of the Lefty Driesell era, Dec. 3, 1960, a 65-59 victory over Wake Forest.
- Fred Hetzel’s school records of 53 points and 27 rebounds in a 113-82 victory over Furman, Dec. 8, 1964.
- Four All-Americans: Fred Hetzel (’64, ’65), Dick Snyder (’66), Mike Maloy (’68, ’69), John Gerdy (’79).
- 11 Unbeaten season in Johnston: 1963-1971, 1973, and 1986
- 9 20-win seasons: 1963-1965, 1967-1970, 1986-87