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U of G women win final varsity game at Mitchell Athletics Centre

Gryphon coaches and players past and present share memories of the school's main gym
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20160302 MITCHELL RM
The Guelph Gryphons and their fans celebrate a basket during their 69-51 win over the Brock Badgers in women's basketball playoff action Wednesday night. The game was to be the final OUA match in the Mitchell Athletics Centre's old gym. Rob Massey for GuelphToday.

A few days after the official retirement party, the curtain came down on the Mitchell Athletic Centre for Guelph Gryphons Wednesday night.

And the last Gryphon game in the 59-year-old gym will be recorded as a win as the Gryphs scored a 69-51 victory over the Brock Badgers in the opening round of the OUA women's basketball playoffs. With the win the eighth-seeded Gryphs advance to play the top-seeded Ottawa Gee-Gees at Ottawa Saturday night.

Bridget Atkinson will go down as the player to score the last basket in varsity play in the gym as she sank two free throws with 19 seconds to go.

As the lights are turned off on the old gym, those who played or coached there are left with endearing memories of the facility.

"Winning the OUA championships was a phenomenal experience," former Gryphon women's coach Angela Orton said of the 2004-05 season. "That season from January on and the (16-game) winning streak we were on and hosting Ottawa in the OUA championship game was so memorable. It felt almost easy in the OUA final (an 87-68 win). It didn't feel easy in the games leading up and the winning streak, but the OUA final felt almost too easy because everything was perfect."

Canadian Football Hall of Famer Garney Henley was coach of the men's basketball team when the school's sports teams became known as the Gryphons.

"When I first got here, we were the Redmen and things changed," Henley recalled. "I remember (athletic director Bill Mitchell) and I putting the first Gryphon on the wall in this gymnasium. We had an opaque projector, drew it on with pencil and painted it. We spent probably about two weeks to finish it in the summertime. It took a long time, but it was fun doing it."

Henley, who was still playing in the CFL for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the time, guided the Gryphs to their lone national championship win in 1974 and Guelph native Bob Sharpe was a key member of that team.

"Any game we played here was a favourite memory," Sharpe said. "The place for our games was always packed. We had upper bleachers on both sides that were filled, not only with our fans, but with the other school's. A lot of fans travelled, our fans travelled to other schools. It was loud, it was noisy, it was exciting and it was also sort of dark and the floor was hard as cement. It was great playing at home every game."

Since the national title win in 1974, the Gryphs have played in the Canadian championship game three times - in 1990 and 1991 in the House of Slam days and also in 2003.

"There were a lot (of favourite memories)," said Eric Hammond, one of the featured players in the House of Slam. "A lot of times it was just me and the guys dunking and it was just so much fun. When you're doing it, you don't really realize at the time how much fun it is."

"It was magical every time we came out," said Tim Mau, a perennial all-Canadian and another House of Slammer. "There was just so many people here to support us, both from the university community and the broader Guelph community. It was always wonderful after the games were over, too. Back in the change rooms the little kids would be swarming us looking for autographs."

Current men's coach Chris O'Rourke was a member of the House of Slam squads and has been with the team since the 1989-90 season. He became an assistant coach after his playing days and has been the longest-serving head coach of the Gryphons after taking the reins for the 1997-98 season.

"We had a few buzzer-beaters and obviously those were highs," he said of his favourite memories from his coaching days. "We had four of them here that I can remember. Those are pretty exciting. I think there were two against Western and two against Windsor."

O'Rourke is expected to be back next season when the Gryphs move to their new gym that is currently under construction.

"I'm looking forward to that," he said. "I think it'll be exciting and it'll be a good new chapter, but I'll certainly miss this place."

The old gym has one more varsity event to go, the annual Gryphon athletics banquet March 31.




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