There are plenty of reasons to love UW-River Falls' new Don Page Arena, but Falcon volleyball coach Patti Ford came up with a new one after her team played the first-ever game at the new facility.
"I was thinking that if we were playing in Karges it would have been sopping wet in there," she said, referring to the hot, humid night. "So the fact we get to play in a nice air conditioned facility is just another thing to love about it."
Don Page Arena, part of UWRF's $63.5 million Falcon Center for Health, Education and Wellness, opened to rave reviews Wednesday, Sept. 13 when the Falcon volleyball team hosted Carleton College. The arena, named after longtime UWRF coach and athletic director Don Page, replaces the R.A. Karges Center as the home of the Falcons volleyball and basketball teams.
The last major phase of the Falcon Center construction project, the arena features seating for more than 2,300 fans, a state-of-the-art video scoreboard and arched ceiling among other amenities.
"Everybody that walks through says this is a really magnificent building," Ford said. "From the layout to the architecture to the color schemes, it's just beautiful."
Falcon fans have been waiting a long time for the new facility. After a 1994 state study deemed the R.A. Karges Center to be substandard, the proposed building project was passed over five times in the UW-System's biennial budget before finally being approved by the state in 2013.
Former River Falls mayor Don Richards, who bills himself as "The World's Oldest Falcon fan," said the wait was worth it.
"It does make it worthwhile," the 1955 UWRF graduate said. "In a way I'm negative about how long it took, but it is so spectacular; it is so good, that the difference from what I expected, which is lower than what we've got, matches the length of time it took to get it."
Former Falcon softball coach Faye Perkins has been waiting a long time as well.
"This is absolutely incredible," she said before taking a seat for the inaugural volleyball match. "This is my 30th year and we were talking about this the first day I walked in the door. For years and years we've been thinking, this is going to be the year, this is going to be the year. Finally it's happened."
Perkins, now UWRF Provost and Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said the Falcon Center has transformed the entire campus.
"The health and recreation facilities have been packed for the last few weeks since classes started, so the students are really getting fired up about it and faculty and staff are fired up about it. They're coming out here. It's kind of like, if you build it they will come. And that's exactly what we've seen."
As fans filed in for Page Arena's debut, athletic director Crystal Lanning said she was a little nervous, but mostly excited.
"The first event you're working out the kinks, so we've been figuring things out on the fly for the last few hours," she said. "The volleyball match is going to happen regardless, it's the extra stuff.
"The team is excited, Coach Ford is super excited. She's waited a long time to play in this gym. It's going to be a fun night," Lanning added.
Ford said she has fond memories of Karges Center, but can't wait to make new ones at the Falcon Center and Page Arena.
"Obviously as a person who has been here going on 26 years, I always loved playing at Karges," she said. "It was small and it was a good home court advantage. But now we have the opportunity to showcase something much bigger. Yes, it's been a long, overdue process, but I feel like everyone is a lot happier. We get to work in a nice, beautiful building."
Falcon men's basketball coach Jeff Berkhof soaked up the atmosphere from the south-end balcony and couldn't wait to see his team play on Page Arena's Rick Bowen Court. Berkhof played two seasons for the Falcons from 1992-94 and was an assistant under Bowen for 12 years before taking over as head coach in 2007.
"The first thing I noticed was how loud it is," he said. "I can just imagine this place being packed, hopefully, for one of our games. And I like the barrel-shaped roof. It kind of reminds me of Williams Arena being a Gopher guy. It's a big-time feel at a Division III school."
Richards, the World's Oldest Falcon Fan, said his old friend Don Page would be proud of the building that bears his name.
"I think he would be greatly pleased with it," Richards said. "And I'm so glad it's named after him. And I think it matches, or comes close to matching, him as an important figure in this community."
The Falcon volleyball team made sure it sent the roughly 600 fans in attendance home happy with a come-from-behind five-set victory over Carleton.
"It was really a fun night, and a great night for Falcon athletics in general," Ford said.