Home Page and Introduction
Pale light escapes through the windows on wooden doors. A small push opens the doors to the hot afternoon sun. There is no time to dottle, there are only ten minutes left to get to the next destination. The path is bustling with people from all corners of life. They move to and fro- the extrovert and introvert, professional and casual, teacher and learner. As you walk to your destination the sound of cheers and clapping transcends from a whisper to a earthquaking roar. A crowd full of students and community members alike are shouting at the top of their lungs; "Eau Claire college dear, Hail to thee our Alma Mater. Strong through every year, Carry high the Blue and Gold! U - Rah - Rah - Aim for excellence. Give the best that you have in you. Go Blugolds, fight to win, for fame and victory! B - L - U - G - O - L - D - S, BLU.........GOLDS!" It is a fight song accompanied by the sound of shoes squeaking on the floor and a ball traveling across the court. This is the center point of social life on campus, especially for athletic games, special lectures, entertainment, and celebrations - this is Zorn Arena.
This building went through multiple name changes and remodels over its seventy-five year history but one thing that stayed the same was its commitment to student health and education. Follow the journey of Zorn Arena through the experiences of the faculty, staff, students, and community members and how their lives were changed in this prestigious building.
In the fall of 1916 the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire was established as the Eau Claire State Normal School for the education of teachers and principals. Students were limited in their career paths due to the courses provided only catering to students who sought a job in teaching and education administration. What started as a one building college would slowly expand to meet student needs and interests for educational and recreational purposes. It was not until forty years later that the campus was able to expand with the construction of a laboratory, theater, education building, and fieldhouse. One way to bring everyone together, on campus and in the community alike, was through the application of sports. In 1950 a fieldhouse, the first campus structure since the university’s establishment, was constructed to house athletic events.
The fieldhouse became the second major building created on campus and the groundwork started in 1950. By 1952 the complex was being used to seat over 2,500 people, connected to the gym was Brewer Hall, Kjer theater, and the campus school. In the beginning the fieldhouse was primarily used for athletic events, specifically the men’s basketball team. Men's basketball, under the direction of George Simpson, was one of the first sports to be implemented in the athletic programs. The 1970s was a time of social and political change with the civil and women’s rights movements spreading throughout the country, bringing previous views of equity and equality into question. In order to achieve diversity and gender representation in the athletic programs in 1970 the university established a women’s basketball team under the leadership of Sandy Schumacher.
In 1969 the name of the fieldhouse changed to the University Arena. This change was implemented to reflect the building’s purpose since the physical education classes were moving to the upper campus at the Eugene R. McPhee Physical Education building. The university arena was not just used for basketball tournaments and intercollegiate competitions but also student functions, special lectures, concerts, and community events. Every semester students would race into the building to register for upcoming classes, weaving between tables in the hope of getting into their desired classes. If the classes were full before the students got their chance then it was a scramble to find an open alternative within their allotted time. The forum and artists series are events that both students and community members attend regularly. The forum series, for example, were where experts on various subjects were invited to speak on campus to the students and community. These events focused on domestic and foreign social, cultural, political, and economic issues of the time. For example, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. visited the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire in 1962. Martin Luther King Jr. discussed segregation, integration, discrimination, and human rights.
Less than twenty years later the name of the arena changed once again. It was renamed Zorn Arena in honor of the university’s former basketball and football coach and Dean of Men, Willis L. “Bill” Zorn. Bill Zorn coached football for fifteen years and basketball for forty years from 1928 to 1968. From the late 1980s to the present Zorn Arena has been the center of campus and community life, through the joys and troubles. This is seen in the university’s dedication towards student and community health. Zorn Arena has had the privilege and honor of being the location of annual blood drives for the state. On the other hand, a negative experience can be clearly seen during a current event that impacted Zorn Arena and society as a whole - the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19. In response to this pandemic Zorn Arena was transformed into a testing and vaccination center for the community.
It could be any other day, Zorn Arena is packed with faculty, staff, students, and community members. Everyone is cheering at the top of their lungs, clapping as loud as thunder, and stamping their feet to create earthquakes. But it does not last forever, the sounds produce an echo, that eventually becomes silence. It is a stillness of peace and tranquility for it is time to say goodbye to Zorn Arena one last time. As the crowds moved to the new building the bleachers fell silent in Zorn Arena ushering in a new era of adventure in Eau Claire and on campus.
Even though Zorn Arena will no longer be the center of student events with the creation of the new building, that does not mean that the campus body and the Eau Claire community will forget the significance, legacy, and magnitude of Zorn Arena.