Throwback Thursday October 22, 2020

Now, the story behind that single door leading to two campus facilities, the gymnasium and the swimming pool. Construction on the gymnasium began in early 1924 and completed in December of that year. The construction of the gym was part of a mini campus building boom. In addition to the gym, the new library, heating plant and engineer’s cottage were built in that same time frame.

The new Montana State Normal School (MSNC) gymnasium was formally dedicated on January 9, 1925 with a basketball double header. In the prelim game, the Dillon Beavers defeated Sheridan 21-11. The main event pitted MSNC against Montana School of Mines (now Montana Tech). The Teachers edged the Miners 11-9. The victory was one of eight victories for MSNC that year. It would be two years before the Bulldog was adopted as the official MSNC athletic mascot.

The gymnasium would be the home to Bulldog basketball and many campus activities for the next 44 years. The gym seated nearly 1,000 fans. Those fans had their choice between a seat at floor level in the bleachers or one in the balcony. The M-Club used the proceeds of a year of fund raising to purchase an electric scoreboard. The gym building also housed four handball courts and the offices of the physical education instructors.

One 1924 Dillon Tribune article said bowling alleys were planned as well, but that never happened. There was never down time for the MSNC and later Western Montana College gymnasium. The men’s intramural program and the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA) didn’t let the dust settle with their busy schedule. The campus rec hall was located in the basement of the gymnasium. An article in the student newspaper the Montnomal proclaimed, “We now have one of the finest facilities in the state.”

A swimming pool was added to the north end of the gymnasium one year later. With the tiled pool, came men and women’s locker rooms and showers. The pool was quickly a popular attraction not only 0n campus, but in the Dillon community as well.

On campus, what became a very popular club, was formed, the Dolphin Club complete with an orange and black dolphin emblem for their swimsuits. For many years, the Dolphin Club produced an annual Dolphin Pageant. Each pageant featured a different theme with a swimming routine to match. One year, the pageant was highlighted by a couple of interesting events, fire diving and shadow swimming.

The WAA had quarterly competitions, from basketball, to softball, volleyball and members received points for participation in the different sports offered. With the pool, swimming competition joined the event list. The swimming points criteria included members swimming 70 lengths of the pool and participating in 24 hours of other swimming competitive events per quarter. One such an event was the trudgen for the length of the pool where the swimmer could receive from three to five points.

Swimming classes were added to the physical education curriculum. MSNC students now had the opportunity to earn Red Cross life guard training, although in those early days of the pool, it was called the Red Cross Life Saving course. The students completing the Red Cross training would serve as life guards and swimming instructors.

The Dillon community also used the pool on designated community nights. In the early days of the pool, a fee of 10 cents was charged per adult per academic quarter.

Probably the most memorable relationship between the community and the college pool were the years the college partnered with the City of Dillon Parks and Recreation department for free summer swimming lessons for area children.

Generation after generation of Dillon youth learned to swim in the college pool.

The pool survived until the early 2000’s before time caught up. The wear and tear on the pool over 70 + years was a bit too much and the pool was forced to close. But, the space was still a valuable part of the Montana Western campus. First as a temporary storage unit, then as a campus wellness center and now as a multi purpose room for the cadets of the Montana Youth Challenge.

The 1967-68 Bulldog season was the last in what was now known as the old gym. The new physical education complex (now called the BARC) debuted in the 1968-69 academics year. The ‘old’ gymnasium took on a new role on campus and continues to serve the Montana Western campus to the present day.

The student rec hall and snack bar disappeared from the basement of the old gym when the Student Union Building debuted in 1958. For many years, that space was home to the textbook library. That’s right, free textbooks students checked out the beginning of quarter and returned at the end. The now defunct industrial technology department occupied space in the old gym building as well.

The old gymnasium building has been remodeled and is now home to the Montana Western Business and Technology academic department with both classrooms and offices. Montana Youth Challenge classrooms are also housed in the building.

“If the walls could talk!” An old expression that fits perfectly with this bit of Montana Western history. One door, two buildings and two sets of classic Bulldog memories.

The original post can be found on the University of Montana Western Alumni Facebook Page. (Facebook Post with photos)