Billy Ray Dunn has worked at Reynolds Coliseum almost every day for 55 of the 65 years the legendary arena has been open at the center of NC State’s campus.
He started in 1960 as a part-time member of the postgame cleanup crew just after he graduated from Clayton’s William Mason Cooper High School. He was hired fulltime in November 1962. He took some time off when he officially retired from the university in 1995, but he returned to work as soon as he was eligible.
Now, at 73, he’s entering his third decade as a part-time member of the coliseum’s maintenance staff.
“I don’t want to sit around at home,” Dunn says. “There’s nothing to do.”
Beginning next week, there won’t be much to do at Reynolds for Dunn and the rest of the athletics staff housed there either. The coliseum, which opened in 1949, will close for at least the next 16 months to go through a $35 million renovation, jointly funded by the university and the athletics department.
In recent weeks, Dunn has been part of the maintenance and facilities crews that have emptied out every closet, every storage room, every nook and cranny of “The House That Case Built.” Most athletics offices and all ROTC offices have been moved to Broughton Hall on the north side of the railroad tracks.
The athletics department recently announced that women’s basketball and volleyball will play most of their home games next season at Broughton High School’s Holliday Gymnasium, one of the largest high school gyms in the state with seating for more than 3,000 fans. Wrestling will compete at various local and campus venues, while gymnastics will compete mostly on the road next season.
When Reynolds reopens in August 2016, the coliseum will have a new configuration for the four varsity sports that compete there — women’s basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling — and will become the permanent home of the NC State Athletic Walk of Fame. (Watch video.)
And, for the first time in its history, it will have air-conditioning.
A three-story lobby will feature memorabilia and other Wolfpack athletics relics from all 23 current sports, previously sponsored sports and all aspects of athletics success. There will be interactive video displays, cases celebrating All-Americans, Olympians and pioneers of various sports that tell the rich history of NC State athletics.
Dunn, for one, lived through many of those exciting moments, perched high above the floor while operating spotlights at men’s and women’s basketball games, IceCapades shows, the annual visit from the Ringling Brothers & Barnum-Bailey Circus and the thousands of other events that made the multi-purpose facility one of the most important structures in the state’s history.
He was part of a crew that cleaned up after presidential visits, concerts, inaugural balls and the annual free-for-all known as change day. He always knew, though, that the biggest games created the biggest cleanups.
“The worst thing you ever had to clean up after was a basketball game,” Dunn says. “It always had that smoke up in the rafters. It would take two or three days for that smoke to clear out of there. And there were liquor bottles in the aisles and all kinds of things.
“It was always a mess.”
He remembers the days when all the doors were orange, all the floors and seats were green and both the stands and bathrooms were segregated. He watched circus handlers lead elephants and big cats through the oversized doors built on the east side of the coliseum and poured water in the temporary ice rink set up in the middle of the arena. He even helped fill a giant tank of water for a touring Flipper exhibition, back when the dolphin had its own television show.
But his favorite event? It was basketball related, but not with David Thompson, Tommy Burleson, Lorenzo Charles or Fire & Ice.
“My favorite was always the Harlem Globetrotters,” Dunn says. “I always looked forward to when they came through here.”