Where drivers park and students learn, study and relax, UGA athletes once competed.

While the area between Stegeman Coliseum, Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall and Foley Field boasts an impressive array of state-of-the-art athletic facilities today, such a complex actually is nothing new at the University of Georgia.

There was a time when you could find venues for football, basketball, tennis, track, swimming and baseball all within walking distance of one another, near where Sanford Stadium sits today.

A historical marker tells the story of Georgia football's birth at Herty Field. (Georgia Historical Society) (Georgia Historical Society/Dawgnation)

“It was quite an athletic complex,” said retired Atlanta sportscaster Bill Hartman, whose dad gave his name to the university’s athletic scholarship fund.

Those long-gone facilities are a part of Georgia Bulldogs history that largely has been overlooked for decades.

Dr. John Stegeman’s history of early UGA football, “The Ghosts of Herty Field,” came out in 1966, but, even then, many Athenians had no idea where those early games — involving such celebrated names as “Pop” Warner and George “Kid” Woodruff — had taken place.

An early UGA football game is played at Herty Field. (University of Georgia) (University of Georgia/Dawgnation)

Nowadays, most students know Herty Field as the lovely green space near Moore Hall on North Campus, but, when I attended UGA in the 1970s, it was a parking lot.

Still, my childhood friends and I are old enough to remember such long-gone venues in Athens as Woodruff Hall, Stegeman Hall (no, not the Coliseum) and, farther south, the baseball field that was replaced by Georgia’s current basketball arena.

A few of us even heard stories from our parents about attending Georgia baseball and football games at Sanford Field, which used to sit next to the later-built stadium that also sports the Sanford name.

In this 1950s aerial view, the baseball field farthest away is where Butts-Mehre’s parking lot is now, and the closest diamond is where Stegeman Coliseum sits. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

However, other sites of past Bulldog athletic triumphs — most notably Moss Auditorium, Alumni Hall and the Octagon — largely are forgotten, unless you go trolling through the archives of The Red & Black from the early 20th century.

Hartman, who grew up as part of the athletics department family, had been after me for a couple of years to write something about the university’s past sports facilities. After my recent piece marking the 60th anniversary of what’s now called Stegeman Coliseum, he made his pitch again, noting that “where the Coliseum sits is where the Bulldogs played baseball at one time. It’s where me and my buddies would climb the fence on Sunday afternoon to play our neighborhood game.”

Hartman shared with me some of his memories of the former facilities, and Jason Hasty, the UGA athletics history specialist at the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, provided more details, as did Dawgs radio legend Loran Smith and others.

In the center of this shot is Sanford Stadium. Moving upward along the airplane strut, you see the tennis courts, Woodruff Hall and the track. To the left of that is Stegeman Hall, with Legion Pool across the street. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

Basically, it all started with Herty Field, a former marching ground that became the original on-campus venue for football, baseball, and track and field at UGA, starting in 1891. The university’s teams (eventually called the Bulldogs) played there until the 1911 opening of Sanford Field, which was named after Steadman V. Sanford, a longtime UGA official.

Located about where today’s Tate Student Center and its parking lot are now, Sanford Field had both covered and open wooden grandstands, and was used by the baseball and football teams. It also had a track around it, where legendary UGA runner Forest “Spec” Towns trained for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

After Sanford Stadium opened in 1929, the new facility and the old field continued to sit side by side for more than a decade, and I remember Dad telling me about attending baseball games at Sanford Field in the 1930s.

Sanford Field served baseball and football with its wooden grandstands. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

The baseball field moved to Ag Hill in 1943. One of the U.S. Navy’s pre-flight training programs was located on campus during World War II, and the Sanford Field stands were torn down, so an athletics building could be erected for the cadets. It later was named Stegeman Hall, after longtime UGA coach, athletic director and administrator Herman J. Stegeman.

Even then, a football practice field briefly sat between the new building and Sanford Stadium, Loran Smith said, though, by 1946, that area was used for parking cars.

During its time on the UGA campus, the Navy also built several athletic facilities in the Ag Hill area, including two baseball fields — one that was located where the Coliseum eventually was built, and another that was in the area where the parking lot for Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall is located today, directly across from Barrow Elementary School. The Navy also built a soccer field, Hasty told me, because they “felt that soccer was good for footwork and team building.” (The soccer field later was used by UGA as a football practice field.)

A football game in the early 1920s at now-gone Sanford Field. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

The baseball field at the future Coliseum location appears not to have had any official name, Hartman and Smith said. Game stories in The Red & Black in those days just referred to it as “Ag Hill.”

That field closed in 1961 for the construction of the Coliseum, and UGA’s baseball team played for the next five years on the other nearby diamond, located on the other side of a football practice field. It previously had been known as the “freshman” baseball field. I recall in 1963-64, when I was a school patrol at Barrow School, looking over into it and seeing a paltry number of bleachers between home plate and third base.

My childhood friend Bill Bryant remembers “asking for (and usually getting) a chipped or cracked bat” from coach “Big” Jim Whatley after games there.

A side-by-side view of Sanford Field (left) and Sanford Stadium, with practice spreading across both of them. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

Finally, in 1966, the Diamond Dogs moved to the location that now is home to Foley Field, an area that previously had been a vacant lot.

When we were at UGA, my friend Dan Pelletier remembers having a P.E. class, about the theory of coaching baseball, “and Jim Whatley actually let us play some of our games on Foley Field.”

Returning to mid-campus, Stegeman Hall included an Olympic-sized swimming pool that was touted as the largest indoor pool in the world. Earlier, the Navy had used Legion Pool, located on the other side of Lumpkin (where it still sits). I learned to swim at Stegeman in the early 1960s, and also took lessons at Legion Pool.

A late view of Sanford Field and its track, after demolition of the grandstand roof apparently had started (right), but Stegeman Hall hadn’t been built yet. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

The athletic department offices and P.E. Department also were located in Stegeman Hall. Hartman remembers visiting his father’s office there, and “there was a steam room! Seven years old and in a steam room!”

Helen Castronis’ father (UGA’s beloved “Coach Mike”) also had an office there, and she recalled, “as a child, I would go with Daddy on Sundays when he would play pickup basketball games. I played on the gym mats and equipment at the far end of the gym while he played basketball. Then, on some occasions, he would let me swim in the big pool. I especially remember there was no ‘shallow end,’ so it was either swim or tread water. I also remember the gooshy pad you had to step on (to prevent athlete’s foot) prior to entering the pool area.”

The Stegeman pool was known as one of the fastest in the South, and it played host to the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials.

By the time this 1946 shot of Stegeman Hall (top center) was taken, the area between it and Sanford Stadium was being used for parking. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

In addition, Stegeman Hall housed the weight room, racquetball courts and basketball courts for student play. I attended a summer day camp there as a kid, and remember that, besides swimming, we got to jump on a trampoline in one of the gyms. I also remember one of the UGA majorettes trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to teach us boys to twirl a baton! And, as a UGA student, I had a couple of P.E. classes there.

The Navy built a platform up in the rafters, reached by a long wooden ladder, so that its trainees could jump into the pool (to simulate abandoning ship). When I was a kid, some folks still would attempt that feat. But, for many kids, just jumping off the 3-meter diving board was stressful enough at that age. Bill Bryant remembers standing on it “for what seemed an hour, trying to muster the courage to jump off, and my mother waiting patiently at the side of the board, encouraging me.”

Roger Hoy said that, when you jumped off the platform up in the rafters, “you were in the air long enough to be aware of the wind around your body and that you really wanted to make sure you kept your toes pointed down when you hit the water.”

The Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool at Stegeman Hall was considered “fast.” (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

Mahla Edwards Swinford also made the drop from the rafters. “I remember ‘freezing up’ after looking down from the rafters,” she said, “and begging to be allowed to go back down the ladder. Not allowed!”

My brother Tim, who jumped off the platform when he took lessons at Stegeman, remembers that it was “dark and scary” up there, and that the pool was so deep that “I still didn’t hit the bottom when I went into the water.”

Stegeman Hall was torn down in 1996 in the run up to that year’s Olympics. The swimming program moved to a new natatorium in the Ramsey Center, and the “Stegeman” name moved to the Coliseum.

The little-known Octagon was home to the Georgia Bulldogs basketball team in 1920. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

The Navy also built a track, just north of Stegeman Hall, where the Miller Learning Center and its front yard now sit. That was where UGA’s track and field teams competed from the 1940s until the current track, later named for Spec Towns, opened farther down Lumpkin Street in 1964-65. Bill Bryant recalls the facility near Stegeman Hall was a cinder track that had “hurdles so high I wondered how anyone could jump over them.”

I recall, as a kid, also seeing the infield of the old track covered with pup tents from time to time, as the National Guard sometimes used it as a camping site. When I attended UGA in the early 1970s, that area was the UGA Bookstore’s parking lot.

Also north of Sanford Stadium, where the psychology-journalism complex now is located, was Woodruff Hall, where the Bulldogs played basketball from 1923 until the Coliseum opened in 1963.

Woodruff Hall, seen in 1940, was the home of UGA basketball for 40 years. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

Of course, that wasn’t the first UGA basketball venue. Dave Williams, another Athens native who now works for the athletic association, confirmed that Georgia’s roundballers first played in the old Athens YMCA (where the Georgia Theatre is now) in 1905-1911. Next came Alumni Hall (later expanded and renamed Memorial Hall), where they played in the ballroom. (The fans had to watch from the balcony, to which the baskets also were attached.) Georgia beat Southeastern Christian College there in 1918 by a score of 122-2, with player coach Alfred Witherspoon Scott scoring 62 points.

After that, the basketballers played in an unheated wooden structure called the Octagon in 1920. I’ll admit, I’d never heard of that venue (and neither had Loran!), but it was used for summer school, dances and social events, as well as basketball, and then was an ROTC rifle team practice facility. It was torn down in the mid-1930s for an infantry drill field, and nowadays it’s the site of a parking lot between the main UGA library and Jackson Street.

After that, the basketballers played in Moss Auditorium, on the third floor of a privately owned building in downtown Athens that later was the site of the Belk department store, and now is where the parking deck for the Hilton hotel is located.

Fans sit in the stands at leaky, drafty Woodruff Hall, which was known for having a warped floor. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

Then, basketball moved to the newly built, 3,000-seat Woodruff Hall. Besides basketball, classmate Tom Hodgson said his father recalled “tea dances” being held there, “which were not nearly as ‘polite’ as the name suggests.” The Athens High School prom also was held there in 1966, with the Swingin’ Medallions (“Double Shot”) providing the music.

Next door to Woodruff (across from LeConte Hall) were the university’s red clay tennis courts. Earlier, tennis courts had been up between Phi Kappa Hall and Broad Street, and at one point there even were some courts on Herty Field, though that might have been short-term, for a tournament.

Loran Smith also remembers that, in the 1950s, some tennis courts were located behind the south side of Sanford Stadium. “They were beautiful courts, nestled in a little valley,” he said, but they had to go when the Gillis Bridge was built in 1963, and the courts moved out to where the tennis stadium is today.

While one of the finest arenas in the South when it debuted, Woodruff Hall was a pretty dilapidated venue in its latter days, often referred to as “the barn.” The roof leaked when it rained, the floor was warped and it was drafty — the common joke in Athens was that it was the only basketball arena where wind was a factor!

UGA students wait to enter Woodruff Hall. (Hargrett Library) (Hargrett Library/Dawgnation)

Joe Costa remembers: “There was only one entrance, double-door width, and it was very narrow and crowded. Once you fought your way into the building, you literally were standing about a foot and a half from the court. In fact, you had to walk on the court to get to your seat.”

Basketball games were a more relaxed affair in those days, and Bill Bryant said he and some of his buddies would play pickup games on the court before, during (halftime) and after games.

Another couple of my childhood buddies, Owen Scott and Ben Anderson, went to a lot of games there, and sometimes sat on the floor on the side of the court.

Remembers Owen: “The Dawgs weren’t very good back then, but they were our team, and you got to watch from up close at Woodruff. I have a clear memory of watching forward Ray Jeffords taking shots from the corners back when they were only worth 2 points.”

Ben spent one particularly memorable evening at the Barn when he was 9 years old. It was Jan. 11, 1961, and Georgia was playing Georgia Tech. With a few seconds left, the Bulldogs had a 2-point lead, but when the antiquated clock restarted after a timeout, it was slow, and that gave Tech star Roger Kaiser time to get off a shot and tie it up.

The UGA fans erupted, Ben said, and “in the ensuing mayhem, a Coke bottle whizzed past the right side of my head before landing on the court and skittering across it. … I thought I might be trampled. … After some semblance of order was restored, and Kaiser’s shot was ruled good, Tech proceeded to finish off the shellshocked Dogs in overtime. But the story that night wasn’t over — far from it.”

As Bill Hartman recalls, after the game ended, someone said, “There’s a riot going on at Myers Hall!”

The first two Black students at UGA, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, had enrolled that day, and a segregationist mob had gathered outside the Myers dorm (where Hunter was staying).

Hundreds of angry fans from the basketball game joined them, and rioters began throwing rocks, bottles and even bricks at the windows. Police officers used tear gas and fire hoses to subdue and disperse the mob.

As Ben put it: “In retrospect, it seems that a slow Woodruff Hall clock and an improbable shot, even by a great player, blew the top off a powder keg on one of the most eventful days in the university’s long history.”

(For more photos, check out the album titled UGA’s “Lost” Athletics Past at my Facebook page. Special thanks to all those fans and alums who shared memories with me.)