Hershey Stadium is a lesser known sports venue in Pennsylvania, but what many don't know is that it saw quite possibly the best basketball game ever played along with one of the greatest presidential bashes ever. Hershey Stadium is rich with history that seems to be forgotten and out shined by other venues with bigger names and larger audiences.
Backstory and Context
Hershey Stadium has been a staple of Pennsylvania entertainment since it was formally built in 1939, and continues to see countless important events take place within its doors across the spectrum of public occasions. When people think of Hershey stadium, their immediate reaction is to think of the numerous concerts the venue is now famous for hosting on a yearly basis, however when diving in to the history of the venue it is much more important than and NSYNC concert which still hold the attendance record for the location. Hershey Stadium stands for so much more than just its modern day use, and in fact when the stories and value of the venue are brought forth it is hard not to fall in love with its glorious past. Hershey may be known for its chocolate and thrilling rollercoasters, but overlooking a piece of Pennsylvania history such as Hershey Stadium and Arena is missing out on an intriguing and important part of sports and political history.
Sports related, the stadium has not only been a host to the hometown Hershey Bears hockey team until the team moved to the Giant Center in 2002, but it also has hosted numerous high school sporting events, along with other junior hockey teams. However, one of the most memorable moments the stadium has ever seen would certainly be maybe the best basketball game ever played by Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain played his infamous 100-point game on the floor of The Hershey Stadium. The most interesting part of the story may be the fact that Wilt played for the Philadelphia Warriors and was playing against the New York Knicks.
At this time the NBA was nowhere near what it is today, so not only was the game not on television, but no one really attended the game at all. As a matter of fact, Wilt was extremely hungover and hadn’t slept before the game. The only reason the game was in Hershey was due to the fact that the NBA decided to play games inn different towns as it was trying to attract new fans from outside of the current cities. Hershey Stadium, or arena as it should be considered at this point was a pitiful excuse for a basketball court. It was still almost exclusively meant for hockey and fans hated staying inside due to the constant overwhelming aroma of chocolate. Wilt just happened to deliver the most points ever scored along with a few other records that still stand today. There are many complications with Wilt’s record breaking game, such as a score discrepancy, Knicks players being too hungover to play, Wilt refusing to score the last play of the game, and even the rims being so old and flimsy it led t him making 28 of 32 free throws when he was typically around the 50% mark. Nonetheless, NBA history was made in Hershey stadium on Match 2nd, 1962 no matter how brutal and seemingly improbably the conditions were.
Politically, the stadium has hosted numerous events over the years but its shining moment comes when it hosted President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 63rd birthday gala sponsored by the Republican Party. Sponsored is a term used very loosely, as it was essentially a fundraiser for the Republican committee but either way Hershey hosting a president for such a big occasion is nothing to laugh at. It is estimated that over 10,000 people were cycled in and out of the birthday bash, which included famous golfers, multiple different performers and everyday citizens willing to put up the 100 dollars for the plate of dinner provided. The night from here on out was all about Dwight; he was escorted around by horse and buggy while the patrons at the dinner sang his campaign song and adored the massive cake brought in for Eisenhower. Eisenhower gave away a trip to the white house and the event concluded with a lengthy reception. Eisenhower would actually return twice to Hershey after the event years later; once for a “stag party” and once for a gathering with Vice President Nixon.
Hershey stadium is now the little brother in some ways to the much newer Giant Center, but the amount of history that comes with Hershey Stadium is the reason that many think it is still the landmark it is today. The direct connection with Milton Hershey is also a leg up the venue has on the Giant center. This brings up another interesting story in the stadiums rich past. From the start, Milton Hershey was the driving force in creating a bigger and better building for the brand and the plan was hatched in 1932. A few years went by and the project got put on the backburner. Then finally a man named Anton Tedesko came finally pushed the large building idea in to fruition. “On January 21, 1936, Tedesko presented his idea for a huge arena to Paul Witmer, who in turn presented it to Mr. Hershey. Milton Hershey was initially skeptical about the practicality of such a structure. However, the design’s innovation and newness excited him and he soon gave his approval. Tedesko quickly began work on design plans and ground was broken on March 11, 1936.” (Hershey Arena) Anything directly connected to Milton Hershey holds enormous value for the entire brand for years to come.
Stadium does not get mentioned with the large names such as Three Rivers or
Lincoln Financial field, but its rich history comes from much more than just
chocolate. Hershey stadium is important to the community that has either worked
at the stadium or even lived near the historic venue. For example, it holds
special meaning to people like Tommy Fortner who has self-proclaimed that “he has driven 20,000 miles on the Zamboni at
Hershey Park Arena.” He goes on to say “Giant Center has state-of-the-art
conveniences and more accommodating public spaces. It isn’t seasoned enough yet
to match Hershey Park Stadium’s charm.” (Leone) A venue that holds so many
great local sports moments and charm that cannot be matched in its individuality
by any other stadium in the state.
“Hershey Arena.” Hershey Community Archives | Hershey Arena, www.hersheyarchives.org/essay/details.aspx?EssayId=24&Rurl=%2Fresources%2Fsearch-results.aspx%3FType....