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The following features were written in 1998 and predate this web site.
The Ryan Gymnasium Years
What if they built a gymnasium and no one used it?
Such was the fate that befell Georgetown's Ryan Gymnasium upon its completion in 1906. Designed to accomodate the physical education needs of a 200 man college, the facility was totally unprepared for the arrival of college basketball and the fan support it would engender. The gym had no formal seating, and the running track above the floor could only hold a small standing room crowd.
When Georgetown began its intercollegiate program in 1907, its games were played at a variety of downtown sites. The location was important for two reasons--the team was influenced heavily by law school talent in its early days, but larger downtown facilities allowed the self-supporting Basketball Association to meet expenses.
Home games returned to campus in 1914 with the hiring of "The Silver Fox", coach John O'Reilly, as head coach. The Ryan home court advantage became a weapon that Georgetown had lacked at other sites, but which produced some memorable games from 1914 through 1927.
From 1918 through 1923, Georgetown teams managed to reel off an impressive 52-0 record at Ryan Gym. These wins were earned not against pushovers, but against some of the biggest names in college basketball. Washington was a frequent stop for Southern teams heading north to play opponents, so it was little surprise that teams like North Carolina, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech took advantage of a stop at Ryan Gym. To their surprise, they each left with losses.
North Carolina played at Georgetown in 1920 and 1921. The Tar Heels fell 36-27 the first year, and 39-20 in the follow-up. Georgia Tech, then known as the "Golden Tornado", was no less successful, the victims of a 37-14 rout on the Ryan floor. And Kentucky, coming off their first Southern Conference crown in 1921, fell to Georgetown 28-23 in a major upset.
Perhaps the team most affected by the guym's surroundings was crosstown rival George Washington. In nine games at Ryan Gym between 1914 and 1924, it lost all nine, seven of which were by more than 18 points. The last game, a 54-8 Georgetown rout, led GW to suspend the annual series for the next 15 years.
Excepting an annual trip to Annapolis to meet Navy and road trips to the New York schools, Georgetown played nearly all their games at Ryan. From 1919 through 1927, Georgretown averaged only three road games a season. At the same time, its combined home record was 65-10 [.867]. The location not only provided a steady stream of victories but also kept travel expense to a minimum.
By 1927, O'Reilly had been forced to retire, and Athletic Director Lou Little was already planning for the future. He proposed to Georgetown the construction of two athletic facilities capable of meeting the local interest in Hoya sports: a 25,000 seat football stadium at the location of the current baseball diamond, and a 7,500 seat gymnasium just outisde the campus gates at 37th and N Streets modeled after Penn's new Palestra facility. One can only wonder how the history of Georgetown would have developed given the potential of such facilities, but the onset of the Great Depression and Little's subsequent hiring by Columbia ended all such speculation.
Before he left, Little allowed coach Elmer Ripley to schedule basketball games off campus to pay for travel expenses. Coach Ripley's first season was played off-campus, the first of 22 seasons off campus in a variety of locations, including the Arcadia Arena [1927-1929], Catholic University's Brookland Gymnasium [1929-1930, 1945-1946], American University's Clendenen Gymnasium [1930-1931], Washington D.C.'s McKinley Tech High School [1931-1939, 1942-1943], Uline Arena [1939-1941, 1949-1951], Riverside Stadium [1941-1942] and the National Guard Armory (1946-1949]. Teams continued to practice in Ryan Gym, and intramurals were held there, but the building could no longer support the needs of a growing university.
In 1951, McDonough Gymnasium was constructed for basketball and other sports--ironically, McDonough's 3,000 seat capacity would one day leave it just as obsolete as Ryan was a generation earlier. The old gym was later converted into offices for the campus location of the Riggs National Bank, and has recently been tapped as a building for a performing arts hall. Although it has not hosted an intercollegiate event in nearly 70 years, Ryan remains the oldest existing athletic structure at Georgetown.
The Best Of His Era
Over his first two years of coaching, John O'Reilly had posted respectable if not spectacular
marks for the program, lacking the individual talent which had once distinguished Georgetown
as a regional basketball power.
This situation would change in 1916 with the arrival of a 5-6 law student named Fred Fees.
Fees came to Georgetown from Carrollsville, PA, attending St. Francis College as an undergraduate. By the midway point of his first season in 1917, Fees was already on his way to becoming the most prolific free throw shooter in Georgetown basketball history.
At this point in the evolution of the game, the rules allowed a team to designate free throw shooters, no matter who was fouled. Since basketball remained a rough and tumble sport through the mid 1920's, an accurate free throw shooter could make the difference between victory and defeat. In Fees, GU had one of the nation's best. By season's end, Fees led the team in scoring, accounting for 195 of the team's 450 points, a remarkable performance and a sign of greater things to come.
The next season, 1917-1918, Fees was without peer. At season's end, his 201 point total, an average of 18.3 points per game, was the best in the nation. His average stood as a Hoya single season record until 1959.
A 16.3 average followed in 1919, then a 17.7 mark in 1920, accouting for half of all Georgetown points scored that season. Fees' career average of 16.8 ppg was a standard unparalleled in the early days of college basketball and is the fourth highest career average--then or now--in Hoya basketball history.
Ironically, since Fees had not kept in close touch with Georgetown in his later years, he was never nominated for the University's Hall of Fame.