ATHENS, Ohio -- Mark Stickel has been coming to the Convocation Center since the beginning.
The Greenville, Ohio, native arrived on the Ohio University campus as a freshman in the fall of 1968. He grew up just north of Dayton and recalls becoming familiar with the Mid-American Conference and its schools through the Saturday 'MAC Game of the Week' broadcasts on the local television station.
"I actually kind of grew up as a Dayton fan. Fortunately, I always hated Miami," recalled Stickel.
Stickel grew up playing basketball and baseball in high school and had a couple offers to play basketball at some Division II schools but ultimately decided to end his athletic career and attend Ohio.
It was an exciting time to be a Bobcat. The football team went undefeated in the regular season and won a MAC title in 1968. A young man by the name of Mike Schmidt was an emerging star on the baseball team. And a brand new arena that was the vision of university president Vernon Alden was set to open.
Stickel attended the first event ever held at the Convocation Center -- a Simon & Garfunkel concert.
"It was almost like a mystical kind of thing, this big arena sitting here on the edge of campus," said Stickel of the Convo. "It was fascinating to see, being brand new. I remember the newness of it."
The event that truly turned Stickel into a superfan of the Bobcats occurred on Dec. 3, 1968. The men's basketball team was set to host its first-ever game at the Convocation Center against Big Ten Conference foe Indiana. Stickel attended the game with classmates he lived with in Lincoln Hall and became hooked.
"I fell in love with the Bobcats from day one," said Stickel. "Right away, I certainly became a basketball fan."
The Hoosiers jumped out to a 43-30 lead at halftime over the Bobcats, who were coming off of a 1967-68 campaign in which they went 7-16.
"I remember being down," said Stickel of the Convo's inaugural game. "We were down 13 at halftime. We were down 10 late in the second half. But I remember the comeback, with the crowd cheering and the crowd yelling."
Gerald McKee provided the spark Ohio needed, scoring 12 of his 20 points in first five-and-a-half minutes of the second to trim the Bobcats' deficit to three. Indiana got to the free throw line and built its lead back up to nine with just under 12 minutes to go. Ohio refused to quit, though, going on a 16-5 run that gave the Bobcats a 66-65 lead. The Bobcats closed out the contest on a 14-5 run over the final eight minutes of play, with team captain John Canine pacing the offensive attack by scoring nine of those points. He finished the contest with a game-high 21 as Ohio produced an exciting 80-70 triumph to christen its new building.
"It really sold me on this place," said Stickel of the win over Indiana. "The intensity of the crowd and the cheering and the yelling and the noise certainly helped the Bobcats to come back and win that game."
During Stickel's time as a student at Ohio, the Bobcats qualified for the postseason National Invitational Tournament in 1968 and won MAC championships and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in both 1970 and '72 under the leadership of legendary head coach Jim Snyder.
"Basketball just kind of became the real passion for me," said Stickel. "This place became a passion for me, just because of what it was and what it meant to the university back then and what it meant to athletics."
On Saturday (Feb. 2), Ohio will officially celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Convocation Center with a basketball doubleheader. The women's team will host Ball State in a 1 p.m. ET matchup, with the men's team following with a 3:30 p.m. ET showdown against MAC rival Akron. Celebration elements for the doubleheader include the men's team wearing 1968 throwback uniforms, the women's team wearing 1980s throwback uniforms, the retro Ohio "Attack Cat" logo displayed on the court, a retro music playlist, the cheer and dance teams and Rufus the Bobcat in retro gear, commemorative 50th anniversary posters for fans in attendance and internationally known entertainer Red Panda to perform at halftime of the men's basketball game. Tickets for the doubleheader are $5 and include admission to both games.
The Convo 50 Celebration has brought back a flood of memories for Stickel, who has been a season ticket holder for 25 years and hasn't missed a game in over 20 years.
Among some of Stickel's favorite games in the Convo:
• Dec. 6, 1969: First Team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year Rick Mount and his No. 13-ranked Purdue team came into the Convo, and Ohio produced an 80-79 victory over the Boilermakers.
• Feb. 28, 1970: Ohio 77, Bowling Green 76. The Bobcats knocked off the Falcons in the regular season finale in front of 14,102 on their way to winning the MAC title. Stickel and the Ohio fans stormed the court after the win.
• December, 1971: The Bobcats upset No. 4-ranked Ohio State, 79-68, on Dec. 11, then upset No. 12-ranked Indiana four days later.
• Feb. 14, 1983: Ohio 63, DePaul 62. The Bobcats take down a Blue Demons team led by legendary head coach Ray Meyer in overtime.
• Dec. 21, 1989: Ohio 110, Charleston (W. Va.). 1990 MAC Player of the Year Dave Jamerson sinks an NCAA-record 14 three-pointers en route to 60 points.
• Jan. 8, 2003: Ohio 112, Akron 104. The Bobcats outlast the Zips in quadruple.
• Feb. 24, 2010: Ohio 70, Miami 68. Tommy Freeman nails a three-pointer with seconds remaining to beat Miami.
• Feb. 16, 2013: Ohio 78, Kent State 75. Stevie Taylor hits go-ahead three-pointer to beat Kent State.
• Jan. 24, 2014: Ohio 63, Buffalo 61. Antonio Campbell throws a cross-court baseball pass to Maurice Ndour, who dunks it for the win.
The Convo also produced a life-changing personal moment for Stickel. On Jan. 15, 1972, he watched the Bobcats beat Toledo, 71-64. He also met his future wife, Jody.
"Jody was at the game with a friend of hers, and that friend was actually dating the public address announcer," recalled Stickel. "After the game, I came down to talk the PA announcer, and his girlfriend came down and was with Jody, and I met this girl."
Four days later, Stickel went on his first date with Jody – a trip to the Convo to watch Ohio beat Virginia Tech, 88-79. The couple eventually married at Galbreath Chapel on the Ohio campus.
Going to games has become a family affair for not only Stickel's children, but his grandchildren as well.
"This place has meant a lot to my kids, to my family," said Stickel, who now owns 10 season tickets behind the Ohio bench in section four. "The grandkids come down as much as they can. It's neat to have them at the games. As they grow up and get older, it's fun for them to come to games."
The last nine years have brought Stickel a deeper connection to the men's basketball team, as he has been involved with the program in conjunction with Athletes In Action as the team chaplain.
"Getting to know the basketball players for who and what they are and getting to know the trials and tribulations and what their schedules are and what they have to juggle, it's put a different perspective on all the athletes across campus for me," said Stickel of his experience as team chaplain.
Stickel is easily recognizable to Ohio fans with his 'BANG!' sign that he holds up after every three-pointer that Ohio makes.
"The 'BANG!' sign came about listening to (Voice of the Bobcats) Russ (Eisenstein) broadcast the away games and how he'd shout out, 'Bang!' after a three-pointer was made," explained Stickel.
After a Bobcat makes his first career three-pointer, Stickel has him sign his sign, which contains about 35 signatures on it now. Tommy Freeman was the first Ohio player to have the honor of signing it.
"The players know about it, and the players know they've gotta hit that first career three to sign the sign," said Stickel. "It's a neat memento that I'll certainly pass down to one of my grandkids."
Stickel will once again be in section four in the Convo on Saturday afternoon, 'BANG!' sign in hand and family by his side. He's looking forward to seeing members of the 1968 team recognized at the game and to continue to reflect on 50 years of magic at the Convo.
"It's been kind of nostalgic the whole year," said Stickel. "It's been recalling different things. It'll be an interesting time Saturday to even further reflect on what this building means to alumni of Ohio University. For any alumnus who comes here and is interested in sports, they're going to come to games here. They've going to graduate from the Convo floor, which is meaningful. It does have a special meaning for alumni of the university."