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Gym Shaken to Its Foundations Now Aptly Named : Venue: Demonstrating a touch of gallows humor to cope with the quake, Northridge re-christens its basketball arena the Epicenter.

February 24, 1994|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — What once was simply Matador Gym is no longer.

A few years ago, a quick-witted public-address announcer expunged the original name when he planted tongue firmly in cheek and welcomed visitors to "Southern California's premier sports palace . . . The Matadome."

The fans found it amusing. The players loved it.

Now that name too has fallen by the wayside.

In case you missed it, the Cal State Northridge gym last week was re-christened.

Its new name: the Epicenter. A banner draped along the gym's west side made it official.

The tag isn't the most original, but what Epicenter lacks in creativity it makes up for in appropriateness.

A Class-A minor league baseball franchise opened a stadium of the same name last spring. But the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes based their entire package on a marketing gimmick.

Northridge calling its gym Epicenter is as close as you get to truth in advertising.

The school was at the center of the 6.7 earthquake on Jan. 17 that caused millions of dollars in damage to the campus. Several Matador athletic teams were forced to interrupt their seasons to allow players to reorganize amid the rubble of condemned classrooms and apartments.

So now the gym is the Epicenter. Dark humor.

Dozens of people lost their lives in the quake, hundreds their homes. But why continue to grouse when you can muster a joke?

"It's kind of the American way, to laugh at tragedy and make the best of things," said Pete Cassidy, Northridge's basketball coach.

Personally, Cassidy wouldn't mind taking this quake business a step or two further.

For example, how about a change in nicknames. The Quakes, perhaps? The idea has been tossed around.

"From a basketball coach's perspective, 'Matadors' is not the best nickname, anyway," Cassidy said. "You know, Matador defense?

"I could tie into Quakes. If Miami can have the Hurricanes and Iowa (State) can have the Cyclones then Northridge should have the Quakes."

Maybe someday.

For now, Northridge seems to be concentrating on earning its basketball team a home-court advantage.

As if it needed to try.

Teams visiting the Northridge campus must drive by a collapsed, formerly three-tiered parking structure on their way to the gym. Then there is the sight of the "classrooms"--hundreds of trailers and tents.

Before Southern Utah, tonight's opponent in Northridge's final home game of the regular season, started practice Wednesday, Northridge assistant coaches made sure they explained the heavy chains that can be seen secured above the playing floor.

The chains are designed to hold up the light fixtures in case of an aftershock.

Before the game, songs such as "All Shook Up" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll" will be played over the facility's public-address system.

Anything to make an opponent think twice.

But if that is truly the goal, there are other suggestions making the rounds.

Paint a crack or two on the gym floor.

At mid-court put a big 6.7.

Take a page from Colorado and Northern Arizona, which emphasize the elevation of their respective home floors. In front of the opposing bench stencil, "Welcome to the Epicenter--6.7."

Before the game, during introductions, turn out the lights, blare Queen's "We Will Rock You" over the sound system, and have Northridge fans shake the wooden bleachers by stomping their feet.

It even has been suggested that the school rent some fake boulders from a local film studio and roll them down the bleachers into the visiting team's bench.

The players like that idea.

In fact, Tom Samson, a freshman forward, would like to expand on it.

"Can we rent some more fans too?" he said.

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