MAPS 4 board members: State Fair Arena's 'Big House' nickname is racist
MAPS 4 Citizens Advisory Board members said Thursday the nickname of State Fair Arena, the "Big House," is racist and should be dropped when the new Fairgrounds Coliseum is built.
For decades, the term has been applied to the 55-year-old arena, officially Jim Norick Arena, where state basketball and wrestling championships are decided.
In slave-holding states, the plantation home was the big house, Monique Bruner, an administrator at Rose State College in Midwest City and Ward 7's representative on the MAPS 4 board, said in an interview.
The term is derogatory, she said. "I've always thought about it that way. It's always been offensive."
Daisy Munoz, the board's Ward 6 representative, said the term applies as well to jails and prisons, institutions that "lock up people, keep people from their families."
She said replacing Jim Norick Arena, which will be torn down, with the MAPS 4 coliseum "is an opportunity to fix that and move forward.
"That's what MAPS is all about," Munoz said. "The nickname can die with the arena."
Tim O’Toole, president and chief executive officer of Oklahoma State Fair Inc., said he expected the nickname arose organically. A new nickname could arise in the same way when the new building opens, he said.
Harry Black, who represents Ward 3, suggested the term be removed from one of the slides in the presentation on plans for the $90 million coliseum. O'Toole said later Thursday that the slide would be changed.
David Jackson, executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, which sponsors the annual prep tournaments at the arena, said "Big House" is not used by the OSSAA in its promotional materials.
He guessed it was "coined somewhere back in the day and people latched on to it. It's not an official name at all."
Legendary Lindsay girls basketball Coach Charlie Heatly once relayed the origin of the "Big House" moniker to former Oklahoman high school sports reporter Ray Soldan.
Heatly said it came from him and another Oklahoma prep coaching legend, Joe Tunnell.
Heatly was coaching girls basketball at Lindsay in 1968. He was only a decade into a four-decade stint, but he'd already won one state title and would soon win another.
One of his assistants that season: Tunnell.
Tunnell would go on to be one of the best high school football coaches in our state's history, but back then, he was only a decade into his head coaching career. Part of his duties at Lindsay included being a girls basketball assistant.
A few days after Lindsay qualified for state, Tunnell walked up to Heatly and said, "Looks like you made it to the Big House."
Heatly had never heard State Fair Arena called that, but it resonated with him.
Over the next couple years, he'd refer to the Big House often. He'd tell his team, "We're three games from the Big House" or "Only a half left until we punch our ticket to the Big House."
Later, a sporting goods salesman got an OSSAA contract to sell apparel at the state basketball tournament and asked Heatly if he had any suggestions for what to print on them.
"'You've made it to the Big House' was his suggestion … and those shirts became best-sellers."
Staff writer Jenni Carlson contributed to this report