Dome leaves fond memories
by Joe Cannon: Cannon's Corner
Jun 22, 2014 | 603 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s a shame the Raider Dome came crashing down in the pre-dawn hours earlier this week without a proper sendoff.

When I first learned it was going to be torn down, I immediately thought of the majestic implosions I’d watched on TV of old buildings and bridges being turned to rubble.

I was excited that I might get to witness one in person but quickly had those hopes dashed when I was told there would be no explosives used to bring the once-proud facility down.

Had the time of destruction been known, no doubt a large crowd probably would have gathered to say their fond farewells to the site of so many Blue Raider battles.

For safety reasons, the company hired to clear the condemned building chose to knock it down at 4:30 in the morning before the morning rush hour began and neighboring M&M Mars changed shifts.

Seeing the tan bricks scattered caused me to reminisce about the many hours I have spent in the Dome.

I was only 5 when it opened, and even though I saw it many times from the outside as a child, I didn’t go inside until I was probably in the fifth or sixth grade, when I went to watch my Bradley Central squads (my dad and three brothers all went to BCHS) tangle with the “city” squads.

I admit in those days of the early 1970s, I didn’t like the Blue Raiders. They were our archrivals.

Even though I went to church with some kids who went to school there, including Kim Moore who played for Coach Jack Kidwell’s Raiderettes, I had healthy dislike for Cleveland High.

Those feelings began to change once I met and became best friends with Bruce Sullivan, Jeff Helton, Kyle O’Neal and David Callis.

During my high school years, my two main girlfriends — Robin Hall and Suzy Templeton — both went to Cleveland, so that mellowed a lot of the hard feelings I had engrained in me.

I do remember some very exciting hoop action in the Raider Dome back in the ‘70s, but my attention was divided by the pretty girls I was with at the time.

My better memories of the games themselves came a decade later during my first stint (1986-91) as a Banner sports writer.

Along with numerous classic Bradley-Cleveland basketball and wrestling battles, watching the Raider squads tangle with other teams added to the Dome’s mystique.

The two most prominent of Coach Al Miller’s many successful wrestlers that come to my mind are state champs Mike Lennon and Lionel Langford, both of whom had older brothers, John Lennon (not the Beatle) and Howard Langford, who won state crowns before them.

With the ever-exciting Coach Carl Zimmerman at the helm, the Runnin’ Raiders, as they were known at the time, earned the school's first-ever TSSAA Boy's State Basketball Tournament berth in 1989.

Led by Western Kentucky signees Rich Burns and Darnell Mee, playing along side guys like Kerry Scott, Theo White and Chris Parks, the Cleveland squad captured its first boys’ district basketball title by defeating Bradley 83-77 in overtime in the tournament’s championship game at the Dome.

Mee, who went on to play in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets, as well as professionally overseas and later for the Australian Olympic Team, hit six straight free throws in the overtime period to seal the title for the Runnin’ Raiders. He was also named to the All-State Tournament Team as Cleveland advanced to the state semifinals by beating Memphis Fairley in the opening round before falling to Whites Creek, out of Nashville, in the Final Four.

While I missed a lot of excitement at the Raider Dome while being gone from the Banner from the fall of 1991 until I returned the day after Christmas in 2007, there have been plenty of fireworks there since my return.

Being packed in like sardines for district and region tournaments as well as rivalry games, with a couple of hundred people turned away at the door, added to heated action at the Dome but sometimes made it difficult on those of us trying to shoot pictures of the action.

While it is sad to see the rubble that holds so many memories for Raider fans and foes alike, the excitement of what is coming to replace it is beginning to swell.

For Cleveland High to be able to go from having the smallest (it held less than the school’s current enrollment) and oldest gym in the district to boasting of the newest and one of the largest gives Raider Nation something to brag about.

As much as I would have loved to watched the old Dome come down, I’m excited to watch the new facility take shape, and hopefully the new memories will be ready to begin by Thanksgiving or Christmas of 2015.