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Redbirds Set to Return to Horton

Written by on December 5, 2022

Image courtesy of Redbird Athletics

NORMAL, Ill – After 30 years, the Illinois State Redbird men’s basketball team is finally set to return to Horton Fieldhouse on December 10. The Redbirds have played essentially every single regular season home game at the newly-renamed CEFCU Arena since the stadium opened in 1989, but after years of fan requests, the Redbirds are making their long-awaited return against Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

To give a brief history of Horton Fieldhouse, the building opened in 1963 after years of the Redbirds playing in McCormick Gym, where the current Campus Recreation center is located. McCormick Gym has a great history and was a great stadium in itself, with legends like Jackie Robinson competing there, but eventually the Redbirds needed to move to a bigger arena.

Horton was the home of the Redbirds from it’s opening to 1989, when the former Redbird Arena opened. As the years passed by, and Horton Fieldhouse grew older, the lack of modern amenities became apparent, leading to CEFCU’s existence.

There has not been a basketball event at Horton since the opening of the arena, but Horton has stayed online since 1989, with multiple other sports and events being held there over the years, such as track meets, intramural sports and high school tournaments.

Mike Williams, the assistant athletics director for ISU, is one of those fans who just so happens to work for the university and gets to have his hand in the event, and he’s just as excited as anyone to see college basketball return to the facility.

“I grew up hearing stories from my dad about how awesome Horton was.” Williams added, “and how loud it was.”

One of the stories Williams would most often hear about was how the Redbirds faced off against Larry Bird and the 1979 Indiana State team that would later go onto face Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans, essentially turning the NCAA tournament into what it is today.

Williams’ father would always point to how no matter what team was facing off against the Redbirds, whether it was teams in the Missouri Valley Conference or outside teams, Horton had “an insane atmosphere,” one that Williams and the athletics team hopes to recapture.

Horton won’t look the exact same as it did back in it’s heyday, as the bleachers that the facility used are not up to today’s safety codes, among other aspects of modern arenas that will affect the overall look. The fieldhouse also only has room for about 3,800 fans, as compared to CEFCU Arena’s 10,200-seat capacity, making tickets unusually limited for Redbirds fans.

However, this is something most Redbirds fans likely expected, as the idea for the game came out of a number of season ticket holders and former players repeatedly asking members of the athletics department over the years just exactly when the Redbirds would go back to play in Horton.

The game was always in discussion due to these multitude of requests, but once the idea reached athletic director Kyle Brennan, it became a must-do, and when Ryan Pedon was hired back in March, that provided the impetus to make the game officially happen.

“You got a new coach,” Williams said. “You got a new way to energize, and you got a new way to connect [Pedon] to the past.”

Former Redbirds legend Doug Collins was also a major aspect of the decision to finally make this game happen.

“We always thought it’d be kind of a cool way to honor [Collins],” Williams said, “and get him involved with it.”

Once the game was decided upon, meetings after meetings were held in order to figure out just exactly how the university could pull this off. The athletics department has held meetings with basically anyone and everyone, from sound technicians to electricians to the coaching staff and student-athletes, among others.

The overall goal throughout all these meetings, however, is that this game brings back memories, but also gets people interested in today’s roster.

“My hope is that this game will bring back really fond memories,” Williams said. “It’ll get people talking about the history and traditions that lie here around the men’s basketball program, but at the same time, I hope they get exposed to this new team and this new regime under Coach Pedon, who seems to be doing everything the right way and has gone out of his way to get students involved.”

The Redbirds are pulling out all the stops for this event, as Collins will be returning to ISU for the game as well as a special luncheon with Redbirds men basketball donors, and the team will be wearing throwback uniforms.

For now, the Horton event is only on the cards for this weekend, but if this game goes as well as the athletics team thinks it will, or as Williams puts it, “if the team executes” the plan as well as they should be able to, there are chances for multiple Horton games, and not just for basketball, in the future.

Williams believes the hard work will pay off, and that this event will be like no other.

“I think it’ll be great, a great atmosphere, and great for the people that will be part of it,” said Williams.

The Redbirds tipoff against the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars Saturday at 3 pm. The first 1000 students with tickets will receive a special t-shirt, marking the occasion.