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NIU's Convocation Center: A behind-the-scenes look

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(Rob Winner – rwinner@daily-chronicle.com)
The Convocation Center has played host to hundreds of basketball games and dozens of concerts and shows since it opened seven years ago. Although the building is young, there already are stories and fun facts about it that bring a sense of pride to the people who work there.

DeKALB – We wanted to see everything.

The Convocation Center is just less than 7 years old, but old enough to have a footprint in the community. It has played host to hundreds of basketball games as well as dozens of concerts and shows.

Its combined full and part-time staff is in the hundreds and with all of the offices, suites, nooks and crannies unexplored by the general public, we wanted to see it all.

John Gordon, the director of the Convocation Center, gladly obliged and gave us a tour. And although the building is young, there already are stories and fun facts about it that bring a sense of pride to the people who work there.

"A lot of people don't realize all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on around here," Gordon said.

• Do you remember when NIU forward Najul Ervin posterized a Chicago State forward last season with a highlight-reel dunk? If you were there, did you watch it over and again on the video scoreboard?

That memorable footage was captured and edited from a room it seems like you can only see if you're looking for it.

A production room next to the suites doesn't look like much from the seats in the lower bowl, but inside is a series of monitors, banks of editing equipment and enough wiring to cover the Convocation Center floor.

During a game, six people work to enhance the sights and sounds for NIU fans in a controlled chaos that Gordon could only describe as "fun to watch."

• There is a VIP guest in the men's basketball locker room. It's the Huskie logo, surrounded by a black background, on the floor, in front of Jake Anderson, Michael Patton and Xavier Silas' lockers.

It's spotless and partitioned off with a rope line.

"Don't step on the Huskie," Gordon warns us of the NIU tradition.

The rope line comes down during the season, but the players and coaches all have been informed that the logo stays untouched.

• Just outside the men's basketball locker room are a few items brought over from Chick Evans Field House, where the Huskies played basketball from 1957-2002.

One is an 7-foot tall board with the old fighting Huskie logo, complete with boxing gloves. Next to it resides a smaller version of the running Huskie logo.

"It's always good for everybody to know the history of the program," Gordon said.

• It's easy to get lost in the lower-level hallways, and when workers need to communicate while an event is going on, confusion can come pretty easily.

But one hallway is easy to describe. It's the one near the visitor's locker room, with the columns painted red, called "Lipstick Alley."

"It's a lot easier to say, 'Meet me near Lipstick Alley,' then this hallway near this hallway by this hallway," Gordon said with a laugh.

A few other things you might not have known:

• The basketball court is the floor used in the 2001 NCAA Women's Basketball Final Four. Sixteen people can take apart the court and move it off in 30 minutes, Gordon said. The floor gets moved in and out about 80 times during the course of the school year.

• The lockers in the men's basketball room have the names of various donors underneath them. Gordon said donors paid between $1,500-2,500 to "buy" a locker.

• When the building is at its busiest, from November through March, it's not unusual for people to work 80-90 hours a week.

• The men's basketball team eats its pregame meal in the Nelson Suite, the biggest suite in the Convocation Center, with the ability to hold 70 people.

• The visitors' locker room? About as tiny as you think it is. The walls are plain and the room the opposing coaches can use to game plan is no bigger than a small walk-in closet. But it's the perfect size for a concert performer who wants a little privacy and to relax on a loveseat.

• Victor E. Court seats about 800 people and has hosted various dinners and events, including a college dance, in addition to volleyball and wrestling matches.

• The lobby holds the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame display, unveiled in 2008.

• Upgrades to the video board are the likely next step in any major improvement work.

• While the administrators' offices are impressive and most of the coaches' offices are spacious, none is more creative than the basketball pods. Men's basketball coach Ricardo Patton's office features a large piece of art done by former women's basketball player Jessie Wilcox. Wilcox's art can be found all throughout the basketball office pods.

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