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Mac Court's upper deck its own world.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 1/31/04): Bob Welch's column on Page D1 Thursday incorrectly reported that McArthur Court is the oldest on-campus basketball arena in the country. Fordham's Rose Hill Gymnasium in New York is older, opening in January 1925.

If I told you my two reserved seats at McArthur Court came complete with cable vision, you would think I was lying. And you would be right.

Technically, they aren't my reserved seats; I'm only a part-owner with a friend. But they do come with cable vision - three horizontal strands of tightly wound wire to keep people from falling out of the upper deck. And to keep me thinking that I'm watching a basketball game from behind a giant bar chart.

You see, I'm one of the few. One of the proud. One of the people who sit in the 1,359 seats that hang, like roof gutters, from the rustic rafters of the 77-year-old building.

The upper deck is all about unpainted plywood, unpretentious fans and unseen portions of the basketball court. Indeed, the upper level of Mac Court - the oldest on-campus arena in the country - is a world all its own.

At Autzen Stadium, the upper reaches are filled by people of means who might take an escalator to the top; at Mac Court, by people pitted-out by the 72-step climb. We bring a whole new meaning to that "friends-in-high-places" phrase.

"The upper level is like being in steerage on the Titanic," says Sandy Silverthorne, a third-level regular from Eugene. "Every time I open the door, I expect to see Leonardo DiCaprio leading the other passengers in an Irish folk dance. It's like we have our own culture up there. We're having a ball."

The upper level is five rows of wooden seats, like something built by a high school shop class, ringing the court from the hoop heavens. It is fans in the back rows sitting a few feet below a 50-year-old air duct. It is a visual jungle of two-by-fours and plywood and catwalks and pipes and faucets and, in Section 317, a piece of duct tape slapped on a vent.

Mac Court's upper deck is the Jerry's Home Improvement of basketball perspectives, though with hardware whose replacement parts were last available about the time Elvis was here, singing the venue-appropriate "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."

It takes five flights of stairs to get from floor level to third level, part of the cold journey through a winding, metal staircase that makes you feel like a gerbil. But once you've summitted this time-worn Everest - passing by the skeletal remains of those whose dreams fell short - what a view: Watching a game from the upper deck is like peering into a table-top aquarium.

And the ambiance: Here is a cardboard patch on a ceiling wound. There is a brace that looks like it belongs on the Ferry Street Bridge. Everywhere is a sense of the past and the future, the latter so eloquently expressed in the words of my partner in climb: "In case of a fire, would you head for the door or just jump?"

Beyond the level's bare-bones nature, the fans give the upper deck its blue-collar charm. In the walkway behind the seats - `concourse" would be a bit of a stretch - a couple is huddled against the wall in a curious game of one-on-one. And down the way, Terry Holo affixes a bottomless popcorn container to the wall with electrical tape and a paper clip: a hoop for his nephew and niece, 7-year-old Ty and 5-year-old Savannah Boespflug.

"They love it up here," Holo says.

What's not to love? A whiff of cigarette smoke from fans outside seeps through a stylishly painted-over window that's propped open with an old towel, joining the alluring blend of sweat, popcorn and the time-seared mustiness of thousands of games since Mac Court opened in 1927.

Of course, we upper deckers aren't here only for the ambiance and the view, sometimes obscured by beams, flags or cables. In Section 321, Row 1, Seat 1, you have a wooden beam 8 inches from your face. In Section 316, you can't see the score on the scoreboard. In Section 307, you can't even see the far basket.

No, we're here for deeper reasons. Some of us are cheap. Some of us like a challenge. And some of us are secretly waiting for Leonardo and the Irish folk dancers.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jan 29, 2004
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