It was the only campus dorm in which every resident was suspended. Literally.
Ohio Stadium is not quite what it used to be. Though its tradition of hosting Buckeye football games continues unabated and the structure itself remains an unmistakable landmark for sports fans and aircraft pilots alike, a piece of it that thrived for six decades is missing. You might be forgiven for walking within it and failing to notice this omission. Even when it existed, few people seemed to be aware of the Stadium Dorm.
Make that The Ohio Stadium Scholarship Dormitory, as it was officially known. Its genesis was a spartan facility constructed inside the southwest tower in 1933, a mere eleven years after the stadium itself was built. From that humble beginning as a no-frills campus residence for 78 men of limited financial means, the dorm gradually expanded along the west concourse into a much larger, coed residence hall. The additions were elevated structures, their three floors of rooms suspended from the underside of the stadium seating. In its final form, the Stadium Dorm was comprised of five major sections accessed by tiny entrance foyers featuring a flight of stairs leading up to the “first” floor. Up to thirty students lived in each of the fifteen gender-segregated floor units, sharing communal bathrooms, taping posters to the paper-thin walls, and taking meals in the dorm cafeteria. Meanwhile, throngs of Buckeye supporters sauntered beneath these quarters on many a football Saturday without noticing that a vibrant and lively dormitory was hanging above them.
By the time I lived there in the late eighties, its longevity had done little to raise its profile, nor to rectify popular misconceptions.
“What’s it like to live with the football players,” a classmate would ask without a hint of irony or sarcasm.
“Nobody on the football team lives in our dorm,” I would politely explain. “One of the cheerleaders lives there, but that’s about it as far as I know.”
“Oh,” the inquisitor would respond with disappointment. “Still, it must really get loud during a game, huh?”
Actually, no, at least not on the lower floor where I lived. In fact, you could easily go about your business without ever knowing that nearly 100,000 people were making a day of it in your backyard. The one and only time I could ever sense their presence was after a particularly exciting moment during a Michigan game. I was reclining on my bed, watching the game on TV while it was being played only yards away from my room. As I watched images of the crowd going berserk, I detected the slightest tremor in my bedsprings, much as someone paying very close attention might notice a slight natural aberration hundreds of miles away from the epicenter of a mild earthquake.
In earlier days, I might have enjoyed the privilege of accessing games by the ramp doors that adjoined each section as emergency exits. For years, dorm residents (including my three older brothers) were able to simply step from their own living quarters into the frenzied excitement of a major college football game, like idle children discovering a magical land beyond the back panel of their wardrobe. The powers that be eventually got wise to that and saw fit to equip the doors with emergency alarms. During the era in which I lived there, residents were threatened with expulsion from the dorm for exiting to the ramp at any time other than a genuine emergency.
We still had plenty of opportunities to get into the Horseshoe, however. Occasionally we were granted special access, as in the case of Primal Scream Night, on which our dorm was invited to gather at the 50-yard line for a midnight catharsis to relieve the stress of studying for finals. In the spring, we hosted an annual formal in the pressbox. While other dorms rented hotel ballrooms, we had the pleasure of being able to step away from the loud music with our dates onto a tranquilly deserted C-deck, whereupon we could sit quietly and admire the silent football field. All of this was before the university installed the high-tech turf that is still used today, and it was not unusual for the stadium gates to be open to everyone on any given weekday. Frequently the track was enjoyed by recreational runners and the field was home to countless Nerf ball touchdowns. When I needed to find interesting images for a photography class, it was a fruitful and convenient location.
And on one very special occasion, living in the Stadium Dorm happened to be amazingly convenient. In the spring of 1988, the campus was giddy with excitement over the announcement that Pink Floyd had been booked to play the first-ever concert in Ohio Stadium. Students queued up in amazingly long lines to snap up inexpensive tickets, and The Lantern reported breathlessly for weeks on every development from the rapid sell-out to construction of the enormous stage. A few enterprising guys in our dorm went so far as to devise an elaborate scheme by which they were able to bootleg the show in stereo from their own room. When the highly anticipated night finally arrived, it was all the more pleasurable to simply enjoy the quiet comforts of our dormitory home right up until showtime. Go downstairs, exit, walk ten feet to the gate, and show your ticket. Afterwards, retrace your steps and enjoy the afterparty in your own private room inside the venue. Fat cat CEO’s in their luxury boxes never had it better.
Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games. The Stadium Dorm was cooperative housing, meaning that its residents enjoyed a lower rate for their rooms in exchange for participating in a modest work-study program. Everyone contributed several hours a week to keep the place running smoothly, though it usually fell to the freshman to perform all custodial and culinary duties. After a year in the cafeteria, I became a sophomore security guard, checking ID’s at the main door after hours and making the rounds down the aptly named Long Hall (so long, in fact, that the curvature of the stadium prevented a person at one end from seeing a friend at the other) to ensure that all exterior doors were shut and locked.
The latter half of my Stadium employment was spent in the cushiest of positions as a staff writer for the dorm newspaper. Cleverly titled The West Side Story in homage to both Bernstein and the side of the stadium that we occupied, this featherweight rag was derisively referred to by most residents as The Wuss, a snide corruption of its acronym. There was no small amount of resentment among the student dishwashers and toilet scrubbers that a fellow stadiumite could get away with paying off his work-study debt by dashing off a few bad articles a week. Those of us lucky enough to secure this non-work were given very wide latitude to write almost anything we wished, and I enjoyed composing a series of articles that dryly presented outrageous lies as fact. Among the whoppers I reported was a confirmation of rumors that professors accessed academic buildings via an underground labyrinth of tunnels, the revelation that the white squirrel seen frequently on The Oval had been imported from Italy, and a stunning announcement that administrators were planning to build a dome over the stadium. I don’t know if anyone believed it. For that matter, I can’t say whether anyone even read it. But it kept me out of pots and pans, that’s for sure.
Like any college dormitory, ours was not immune from the pathetic excesses of young men and women enjoying unprecedented freedom and minimal supervision. Floors became sticky with the resin of spilled beverages, and occasional bouts of hallway roughhousing resulted in various crevasses and holes along the flimsy drywall. Most of it was harmless enough, although I happened to be in my room one evening when an extraordinary outburst of violence erupted just outside my closed door. A young woman with an axe to grind, or more precisely, a baseball bat to wield, was expressing her displeasure with one of the guys who lived across the hall. There was much shrieking, thunderous pounding, and the shattering of glass. Miraculously, no one was injured. When it was all over, there was a frightening dent in the ex-boyfriend’s mini-fridge, and the hallway was a rank debris field of broken bottles, puddles of perfume, and scattered prophylactics. The unhinged ex-girlfriend was later banned from entering the dorm, but the damage had been done. Not physical damage, but rather the long-term psychological consequences. During the course of her rampage, she made a vociferous and insulting anatomical reference to her embattled boyfriend using the rather impressive word minuscule. It burned in my mind as a brand seared on a hide, and even today the word minuscule is inescapably suggestive to me. God help me if a psychiatrist ever uses it to prompt me in a word-association exercise.
Yes, we experienced it all in the Stadium: laughter, tears, violence, love…and even death. I recall the late winter evening when my roommate, Ken, walked in the door with surprising news.
“Hey, did you hear? Woody’s dead!”
I looked up from my book and silently turned his words over in my mind. I furrowed my brow in disbelief and cried out to him, “Woody Allen is dead?!”
Ken regarded me with the exasperated compassion of a straight man tolerating his hopeless sidekick. “No, Bob. Woody. Woody Hayes is dead.”
It was the solemnest occasion on which the stadium gates were left open to the public. We went down to the field to take in the surreal sight of mourners trickling in and placing mementos upon a makeshift memorial as the image of Coach Hayes shone from the scoreboard. That night, the very same setting for so many raucous football crowds was transformed into a contemplative and reverent sanctuary, as much as any church has ever been.
Ah, football. As young adults immersed in our college years, it was difficult to see ourselves as anything other than the very center of the world in our humble Stadium Dorm. Did we ever realize how insignificant we were in the vastness of the temple we inhabited? Had we ever considered that this majestic edifice was built solely to embrace the gridiron, and the fact that we lived there was merely a footnote to its legacy? Probably not. But it was football for which Ohio Stadium was built, and ultimately it was football for which the Stadium Dorm was destroyed. As the century drew to a close, my old dormitory was demolished to make way for major renovations that significantly increased seating capacity on football Saturdays.
And so the fabled campus dorm that was a secret to many is now all the more legendary. When I last visited Ohio Stadium, it was strange to think that the former residence of so many alumni was simply gone. But I cannot forget the quirky campus digs that I once called home. Especially when I hear the word minuscule.