The University of Arizona women’s gymnastics team is one of four Wildcat athletic programs which hosts home competitions in McKale Memorial Center, along with women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s basketball. While most known as the home arena for one of the nation’s elite men’s basketball programs, McKale Memorial Center has been called home by many of college gymnastics top student-athletes. Atop the rafters in McKale Center are the names of 17 of the program’s most accomplished gymnasts who have been honored in the Arizona Ring of Honor. Earlier this year, the leotard of the 1996 AAI American Award winner, Heidi Hornbeek, was retired, a first for a Wildcat gymnast.
Named after the late J.F. "Pop" McKale, athletic director and coach from 1914 to 1957, the facility is just part of a series of showcase athletic facilities located on the extreme eastern edge of campus. It is situated off the UA mall, adjacent to Arizona Stadium, baseball's Sancet Field and the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center. McKale houses the offices for the entire athletic department and has recently undergone a renovation that added a state-of-the-art weight room and Hall of Champions to the north end of the building. In addition, the entire women’s locker room complex received a complete overhaul. A project that amounted to approximately $1.3 million, the renovation added 7.500 square feet to the existing women’s locker room area. With the addition, each sports program now has its own separate locker area, while softball, women’s basketball, volleyball and track and field each have their own private lounge and shower areas.
The seating capacity has fluctuated through the 27 years of the buildings existence. McKale opened in 1973 with a capacity of 13,658, but the installation of chair-back seating in 1984 reduced that figure to 13,316. Elimination of all bleacher seating dropped the level to 13,124 in 1986 before additional seats were added in the period from 1988 to 2000 that pushed capacity to its current 14,545. The largest crowd in McKale history was the 15,176 who watched Arizona face New Mexico on Jan. 14, 1976. The largest crowd in the Lute Olson era showed up for the 1997-98 home opener against Morgan State (14,672), the first home game after Arizona's national championship run.
Since its initial construction at a cost of $8.1 million in 1973, McKale Center has undergone numerous face lifts to keep up with the times. Sophisticated computerized message boards spanning the upper deck on both sides of the court, along with padded press row and officials' tables with computer-drive scoreboards were added in the early 1990s. The 1992 season saw the installation of four huge video replay screens in each corner of the arena. At the conclusion of the 1997-98 campaign, a state-of-the-art playing surface replaced the old floor that had been in place since 1983. The 2001-2002 season saw new changes as well. A new four-sided scoreboard with video replay screens was installed and hung from the center of the arena, ensuring that once again it meets the standard as one of the finest facilities in the country.
McKale's reputation has attracted several major national sports events. It was the site for the NCAA Wrestling West Regionals in 1974 and 1980, and hosted the NCAA Wrestling Championships in 1976. More recently, McKale was a site for NCAA first and second round basketball action in 1979, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1997, 2000 and 2005. In addition, the USA Basketball Team trained in the arena prior to capturing the 1986 World Championships, and Arizona played host to the second Pac-10 Conference tournament in 1988. McKale has also hosted the NCAA Regional Championships for women’s gymnastics in 1982, 1991, 2000 and 2004.
The facility is 428 feet long, 339 feet wide and 77 feet from the floor to parapet, and houses the entire off-field operations of the University's athletic department, as well as an exercise sciences lab and a suite of 20-plus office labs for the Optical Sciences department. With three levels that consist of equipment rooms, a training and rehabilitation center, locker rooms, storage areas, ticket operations, academic services, computer lab facilities and administrative offices, McKale Center is the primary gathering place for all of UA athletics.
Following the Artizona vs. Arizona State men’s basketball game on February 26, 2000, the University of Arizona athletic department honored head coach Lute Olson with a ceremony to name the McKale Center floor, "Lute Olson Court". Then, during a memorial service in January of 2001 for Olson's late wife, Bobbi, it was renamed, "Lute and Bobbi Olson Court" in recognition of the couple's impact on the university and the city of Tucson. Olson has led seven teams to undefeated seasons at home, and Arizona has led the Pac-10 in attendance every year since 1984-85.