Finley Center Name Befitting
By Wayne Wood
Presently, here during the fall of 2016, a building is being constructed next to the Hoover Met Stadium. As the Hoover Buc football season progressed, I have watched from the field below as the steel skeletal structure has progressed from one constructed stage to the next knowing that it will work towards a scheduled completion time somewhere about May of 2017.
Recently, in early November, the newly appointed Hoover city council & mayor followed the wishes of survey/vote by the citizens & recommendation of an appointed committee to name the soon-to-be completed indoor/event center after one of the most respected & admired citizens in Hoover history–Coach Bob Finley. It will be called The Finley Center.
For the record, the indoor facility will be about 155,000 square feet and will include 11 regulation-size basketball courts which can be converted to 17 regulation-size volleyball courts, a walking track, locker rooms, meeting space & a climbing attraction, 2400-seat banquet area & theater-style seating for 5000 people, performance center, food court & convenience store.
Also under construction is the overall complex which will be named the Hoover Metropolitan Complex scheduled to be completed in early 2018. There will be 5 regulation soccer/football/lacrosse fields, 5 NCAA regulation baseball/softball fields, 16 tennis courts with a pro shop,a 2-mile walking track, playground, splash pad & large event lawn.
I imagine the Finley Center would be used year round and the overall complex field area used seasonally. From my perspective, it seems from the height & location between the Met Stadium and new complex that the Finley Center might appear like the “gateway or big-house on the hill” building.
It will not only serve the citizens of Hoover & surrounding areas but provide a visible & viable location for future athletic tournaments & events for people coming from all across the state & nation. It certainly gives Hoover a lot of future exposure & revenue and was a major factor in the decision for the SEC (Southeastern Conference) spring baseball tournament to continue in Hoover.
There are a few reasons I personally feel that this indoor facility being named for Robert O. (Bob) Finley is befitting. First, there was actual connection years ago when Coach Finley was the head football coach for the first high school of Hoover (Berry High School). As leader of the football Bucs, Finley led his team when the Hoover Met hosted the very first high school game in September of 1988 when the Bucs beat Vestavia 34-7 and then beat Thompson the following week.
During this time, the Bucs played most of their home games at Berry’s Finley Stadium. In 1989, the Bucs played one game at the Met beating Pelham. However, at that time, the baseball infield wasn’t sodded and the rainy game turned into a messy, muddy mess and Finley decided to play their home games in 1990 & 1991 at Berry.
However, they resumed playing at the Met in 1992. It was during this time that the new Hoover High School near the Met was beginning construction knowing that the Met would indeed be its home field in the future. In 1993, all the home games except one were played at The Met.
Hoover High School opened in the fall of 1994 and Coach Finley was to be the head coach but sadly died working on the Berry football field a week before practice was to start. One his passionate loves was working on fields which gives the center facility next to the new fields a bit added significance.
Now when I stand in and around the Met Stadium area with the indoor center under construction, I feel a certain symbolic relevance in it all. Looking at an aerial view of the region and seeing the Met, the construction area with Hoover High in the background beyond the patch of trees hits an emotional cord with me personally and know it does with some others as well. Coach Finley had already moved into his office at Hoover High & was already working on its new fields.
Knowing what might have been if Coach Finley had lived longer knowing the connection of his last years during the Met’s early years is more than poignant & sentimental. Also knowing that these broad new facilities & fields will be utilized & witnessed by probably millions of people in the future is beyond my imagination. I think back to the thousands of people who have been at the Met for football games since 1988 like players, students, coaches, families, fans, etc. is so neat plus the fact that I have been to every game there during that time makes me feel blessed.
There are other reasons besides football at The Met which makes this special in the new building being names for Coach Finley. He was an assistant football coach but he was also the boys basketball head coach when he came to Berry in 1964. By 1968, he was named head football coach and athletic director. At the time, high school sports in the state were mostly for boys and it was mostly football, baseball, basketball, wrestling for some, and track (although it was accepted as a workout program for athletics). Finley helped change a lot of that mindset over time as he worked with other coaches to improve the quality & competitiveness of all sports possible.
Here is an excerpt from a story I received from Julie Gibbs Erwin (a 1978 Berry grad) which I used in the book I wrote on Coach Finley. Julie’s children attended Hoover schools.
“When I was a sophomore in 1975 at Berry I was in heaven. There were lots of friends, lots of classes to choose from and a GREAT athletic program that included a gym just for women’s sports. I was amazed at the size of the athletic program. There was every sport imaginable for boys & girls and all the team sports seemed to be very competitive.
During my junior & senior years at Berry I was fortunate to participate in girls’ athletics, playing volleyball & badminton. (Badminton was later replaced by a great girls basketball team). Coach Finley didn’t coach the girls directly back then but we knew he was there & we knew he was behind us. Those were the days when girls’ high school athletics were struggling to take hold in a world dominated by boys’ sports.
Coach Finley was not only the head coach of the 1977 state champion football team but also the athletic director of one of the strongest athletic programs around. Of course, I wasn’t privy to the workings of the program but I knew the girls’ sports were a very important part of his program. As female athletes we had a new gym & good equipment.
Coach Finley was loved, respected & admired by all athletes, male & female alike. We strove to please him and all of our coaches by working hard & playing well for our school.”
Bob Finley later took on the responsibility of the girls head basketball coach in the mid-1980’s and developed one of the best programs in the state which has continued to even the present. He was also very influential behind the scenes in helping fast-pitch softball for girls in the state take hold when he was the Berry girls team sponsor and was also the sponsor for the girls soccer program when it began in the early 1990’s when the Lady Bucs won 3 state titles.
After Coach Finley died in 1994, there was a scholarship program at Hoover High set up by some of his former players. By 1996, the Hoover City School System had established the Finley Character Education Program of which every school in the system participates in honoring selected, deserving students. A banquet is held each year honoring those students & their families and the program is one of the highest & revered honors in the school system.
It is quite possible that the Finley Banquet might be held in this new Finley Center indoor center in the near future That would certainly be fitting for all practical purposes.
The Finley Center was truly named for a deserving hero and respected man in Hoover history.