INSIDER: Swisher looking for love

Jan. 19, 2007

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Despite a cold, windy day, everything was bright and sunny for Swisher Gymnasium.

No, Friday was a celebration for Swisher as the old lady of the campus would once again be the focal point on a Saturday night, as the men's basketball team prepares to run up and down her court in game action, seeking their 150th win in the historic venue.

Saturday's game marks the reunion of an old couple and a love affair that has lasted through the years, going back to Swisher's birth in the 1950s.

Swisher lost her first love this summer to the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, the second time in her life that she has been left for a newer, more beautiful venue.

It isn't the first time the men's basketball team and Swisher have broken up. During the 1969-70 season, the Dolphins left the campus for the old Jacksonville Coliseum - a relationship that last 30 years until the Coliseum was laid to rest.

The men's hoops team and the Gymnasium renewed their vows for the 1999-2000 season, only to see the team stray from those bonds when a new suitor came calling this season.

In an exclusive interview, Swisher Gymnasium let loose a lot of emotion that is packed into the building.

"I love this basketball program, but I have feelings too," the historic Gymnasium said. "I've taken a lot of crap from that program over the years. I'm good enough to come home to, but I'm not good enough to show off to your friends? I know I'm old, but you can't just throw me away like garbage.

"Just look at what I've done for the women's team this year. They are 5-1 here! They feel comfortable here and we've made is a tough place for opposing teams to play."

But the new love between the men's team and the Arena downtown has gotten off to a beautiful start, with the Dolphins winning their first six games since calling it home.

"I remember when the men's team and I first started dating," the Gymnasium recalled. "We were so much in love and they really enjoyed playing here and racked up a lot of wins.

"Then, they got Artis, Pembrook, Rex and company before leaving me for another place. It's been almost 40 years and I still don't think I'm completely over that."

This season, the men's team is playing three games in the on-campus venue, with the hopes of having all games off campus in the coming years. The women's team will also see several of its games move Downtown as well.

"That's the thing that really hurts me," Swisher said. "If taking the men's team wasn't enough. Now they are trying to take the women's team from me too.

"I've done a lot for those teams over the years and now some good-looking place comes up and whispers some sweet nothings in their ear and they drop me like a sack of concrete."

When reminded that the volleyball team has stayed true throughout the years, it brought a tear to Swisher's eye.

"I love that program so much," the gym said, sobbing uncontrollably at this point. "They have been so sweet and good to me, more than I could ever dream of. They love me for who I am and don't expect me to be something I'm not. They just love me and we've grown together."

When quizzed if she would ever take the men's team back, it drew a quick answer from Swisher.

"No doubt, they are my first love," the Gymnasium said. "We started together and matured so much from when I first came into it's life. I know they want the nice floor, beautiful locker rooms, comfortable seats and stuff, but there is no way I could ever turn my back on them. Despite their faults, I will always love them."