6 things you should know about Baylor’s Ferrell Center
While the golden dome of Pat Neff Hall is the iconic image of Baylor University, there’s another golden dome that has housed a significant amount of Baylor history over the last quarter-century. Countless fans have filled the Ferrell Center to watch Baylor’s basketball, volleyball, and now acrobatics and tumbling teams, and thousands of graduates have walked across its stage at Commencement.
But just how much do you know about the Ferrell Center? Here are a few facts every Baylor fan should know:
1. President Ronald Reagan was the featured guest at the Ferrell Center’s first event, just a few months before he left office. (Here’s what preparations for the Ferrell Center opening looked like in a classic news clip from 1988). Including Reagan, the Ferrell Center has hosted three of the five United States presidents to serve during its lifespan. George W. Bush has twice attended Lady Bears games, including his first public appearance after leaving office in 2009, while Barack Obama spoke at a memorial service for victims of the 2013 West explosion. Other notable political figures to visit the Ferrell Center include Colin Powell, Margaret Thatcher and Desmond Tutu.
2. Its name honors the memory of a former Baylor student. Charles Robert Ferrell tragically lost his life in a car accident in 1967 while a Baylor sophomore. Charles’ father, Monroe, was a 1938 Baylor graduate, and his love for his son and for Baylor was shown through the naming gift of the Ferrell Center. Two decades after the accident, Mr. Ferrell’s estate, recognizing what it would have meant to the family to honor Charles at Baylor, made the naming gift for the arena.
3. This is the fourth permanent home for Baylor basketball. Before the early 1920s, the Bears played their home games outside on Carroll Field (located where the Bill Daniel Student Center sits today). After that, they played in a combination auditorium/gymnasium on campus until Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium debuted in 1938. By 1953, the team was regularly selling out the 3,500-seat gym, and so the Bears moved to the 10,000-seat Heart of Texas Coliseum across town (now the Extraco Events Center). They remained there until the Ferrell Center opened in 1988.
4. The Ferrell Center wasn’t always planned for its current location. In 1982, it was announced that a new special events center would be built “adjacent to Russell Gymnasium, on a site bordered by Waco Creek, University Parks Drive, Bagby Street and Speight Avenue” (where the McLane SLC and Baylor Sciences Building are now). New intramural fields were planned for the corner of University Parks and LaSalle Avenue. But by the time of groundbreaking five years later, the arena’s site had been moved across University Parks — joining what is now Baylor Ballpark in establishing the beginnings of an entire riverfront athletics complex.
5. It has served Baylor longer than any other current athletics facility. Maybe that’s a nice way to say the venerable Ferrell Center is Baylor’s oldest athletic facility, but it really speaks to the incredible growth of Baylor Athletics since it opened. And the Ferrell Center is getting better as it gets older, with more improvements coming; Director of Athletics Ian McCaw has said that renovating the Ferrell Center is one of the university’s current five-year goals.
6. The Ferrell Center has a twin. The University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center, built in 1994, was modeled after the Ferrell Center. Just look at a few photos and you’ll likely do a double-take. From the triangular design in the domed ceiling to the circular bowl around the floor, Hawaii’s arena is a nearly identical replica of the home of the Bears and Lady Bears. The only real discernible difference in photographs (aside from the Hawaii logos and signage) is the dome itself. As you can see in this exterior shot, the Stan Sheriff Center’s dome lacks the brilliance of the Ferrell’s eye-catching gold. Aside from that, Hawaii could feel like a home away from home for Baylor Bears, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
The Ferrell Center has been a fixture on the Baylor campus for more than 25 years, adapting with the times and serving generations of Bears. So here’s to future generations celebrating graduation, cheering on Big 12 championships, and marveling at the growth of one of Baylor’s most recognizable facilities.
Sic ’em, Ferrell Center!