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LeClaire Hall Has a History All Its Own

Fans used to surround the court when LeClaire Hall was host to St. Ambrose basketball.

March 2013

Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Leonard Czarnecki '52 remembers a decided homecourt advantage back when the Fighting Bees hit the hardwood in the cozy gymnasium inside LeClaire Hall.

Fans seated in the first of five rows of bleachers stacked tightly around floor occasionally would put a leg inside the line.

"Oh sure, you could get tripped by someone, which happened," he remembered of a fate more likely to befall a visitor than a Bee. "Sometimes fans got a little excited."

These days, the gymnasium serves mostly as a storage center for items from across the campus. Even the balcony area that once provided a birds-eye vantage point for overflow basketball crowds is packed now with boxes and equipment.

The occasional bare spot will provide a glimpse of the steep-banked, wooden running track that any roller derby star worth her skates would love to put wheels on.

Leo Kilfoy '51, PhD, served as head track coach for more than a decade at the start of his 58-year, multi-faceted St. Ambrose tenure and said he enlisted that balcony track as a unique training tool. He would have his athletes first run one direction and then the other on the hardwood surface that banked 45 degrees. "You would strengthen the ankles on both sides," Kilfoy said.

Kilfoy also taught physical education classes in LeClaire for 33 years, including swimming classes in the basement pool. But by the time he took the basketball reins in 1966, the Bees had been playing their home games off-campus for several years.

By then, LeClaire Hall's age was showing. But when it opened in 1916 at a cost of about $100,000, the gymnasium and accompanying facilities were regarded as among the best in the state of Iowa.

Along with the gym, the first floor included a state-of-the-art auditorium. The balcony was part of a rifle range that helped prepare St. Ambrose students for the impending world war, said Rev. George McDaniel '66, PhD.

LeClaire was the start of a growing institution that continues to grow today.

"It was a critical time, the time we started to really become a college," Fr. McDaniel said of the addition of a second building at St. Ambrose.

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