Clinton Gymnasium – William Carey Crusaders
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86
Clinton Gym 710 William Carey Pkwy Hattiesburg, MS 39401
Year Opened: 1963
The Crusaders' Cathedral
William Carey University originally opened in Poplarville, MS as the Pearl River Boarding School in 1892. After a fire destroyed the school in 1905 the campus was rebuilt in Hattiesburg as South Mississippi College, before changing its name to Mississippi Woman's College in 1911. The college became co-ed in 1954 and changed its name to William Carey College, named after the Protestant Missionary. In 2006 the college changed its name to William Carey University.
Nicknamed the Crusaders, the small school currently competes in the Southern State Athletic Conference of NAIA. The Crusaders athletic programs have become a powerhouse in the NAIA in recent years with two soccer national championships and one baseball national championship within the last 5 years. Despite the small school nature of the college, it is quite large compared to most of the schools in the conference, with an enrollment of 3,200 and spread out over 120 acres in a neighborhood in south Hattiesburg.
The basketball team began in 1963 and plays on campus at the Historic Clinton Gym. The 1,300-seat gym has seen its fair share of great basketball moments – the gym is where from 1968-71 a left-handed shooter named Mike Necaise scored more than 2,100 points, and went from the NAIA to the NBA in less than a year as he got drafted by the Seattle Supersonics. The gym is also where head coach Steve Knight's 723 career wins make him Mississippi's all-time winningest college basketball coach.
But for every great moment comes a not so many great moment – in the early morning hours of January 21, 2017, an EF-3 tornado ripped through the William Carey campus, ripping the roof off the gym and obliterating the small campus. Now six years later walking the campus, you will notice many of the buildings seem quite new, and that is because many of them have been rebuilt over the past six years, including a completely renovated Clinton Gym. Now it looks like a brand-new college at William Carey, with new buildings and new athletic facilities.
Food & Beverage 2
There is a small concession stand located in the lobby as soon as you enter the building. Nothing stands out as just the basics are sold here, but prices are reasonable if you have to get something to eat. You can get hot dogs and nachos for $2, or popcorn, candy, pickles, and chips for $1. Getting a drink is the most expensive item on the menu with a $20 oz. bottle (Coke products) costing $2.50. You could also get a hot dog, drink, and chips combo for $5, which saves 50 cents. However, my recommendation would be driving a little bit further into town and getting something to eat at one of Hattiesburg's many restaurants.
The new Clinton Gym is built almost exactly like the previous version of the gym. It is basically a large brick building at the front entrance of campus. Attached to the gym is the Gym Annex that was built in 2017 and houses the team locker rooms, weight rooms, and practice courts where the volleyball team plays. The building is shaped with the court facing east and west, with one main entrance on the east side that opens to a small lobby which houses the ticket booth and concessions. On the wall as soon as you enter is the game-worn jersey #24 of Mike Necaise. When the tornado hit it completely ripped out the east side entrance and sucked the jersey out into the air; luckily they found the jersey during the cleanup, and now the school's most decorated player's jersey sits proudly displayed at the main entrance.
Once you enter the spacious and small gym the layout is like a typical high school gym – 12 rows of plastic bench seating line both the north and south sides of the building. The floor at the gym is named Steve Knight Court, after the Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer who has been coaching here since 1982. High above the seating area are banners of various local sponsor businesses, while above the end court on the east side are banners representing the achievements of different sports at William Carey; you'll see the soccer and baseball national championship banners, as well as all the feats of the men's and women's basketball programs. The far west side of the court features a basic-style scoreboard, as well as another banner of the retired number 24 of Mike Necaise, the only retired number at William Carey.
The William Carey campus is located about three miles south of the Southern Miss campus, in a residential neighborhood right down Highway 49. There is one small bar called Shenanigans located on the corner of Highway 49 about a mile away from Clinton Gym, but other than that, there is nothing within walking distance of the college, so you'll have to go into town to see anything.
Hattiesburg is a typical larger college town with plenty to do for all ages. There is a zoo nearby, a mall with plenty of shopping, and plenty of restaurants spread out throughout the city. If you are into the outdoors the Okatoma River provides an excellent place for canoeing, while the Long Leaf Trace is a popular 44-mile trail that runs through the city. For places to stay there are a ton of hotels located closer to the interstate. In addition, Paul B. Johnson State Park and the Elks Campground nearby remain popular spots for camping, if you are coming to town for the weekend in the spring.
William Carey has an enrollment of 2,800 and many of these students live on campus, or in the apartments right off campus. The Crusaders are also very competitive in all sports, with the multiple banners of all the sports hanging above the gym – this turns out great as students living in close proximity, plus the school winning a lot of games, definitely brings out lots of fans. Clinton Gym holds about 1,300 and I would say there were probably 800-1,000 people at my most recent game, with lots of students; I would say 90% of the people at the game were students. In fact the entire north side bleachers was filled with students, and almost all of them were into the game.
William Carey also has a small pep band that tries their hardest to make it a rowdy atmosphere inside the building. During timeouts they have different giveaways and have people compete in games for prizes, which was definitely surprising for an NAIA basketball game.
Hattiesburg is conveniently located less than an hour and a half from New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, Mobile, and Jackson, so getting here should be no problem. William Carey University is located right off Highway 49 about 3 miles from Southern Miss – the small campus is located in a neighborhood east of the main highway. You should have no problem finding a parking spot on campus, as there are plenty of parking lots available.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets were free for the most recent game I attended. However, I have been to games here in the past where they have charged for tickets – it's always hit or miss if they are going to be taking tickets or not; sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.
When they are taking tickets they usually charge $7 each, and you are free to sit wherever you want. I consider the return on investment about average for this level of basketball; they have really cheap concessions so you can get in, eat, and watch a game for around $10-$12.
One extra for some of the more memorable games and moments that have taken place inside this small gym. As mentioned earlier Mike Necaise scored over 2,000 points during his career here, and he would have scored more, but that was all years before the 3-point line was created. Also mentioned was head coach Steve Knight's becoming Mississippi's all-time winningest basketball coach.
The small gym was also home to the many "Holy War" matchups in the 1960s and 1970s – it was the Baptists vs. Presbyterians as William Carey took on Belhaven University from Jackson in many memorable matchups. Two things were always certain in the Holy Wars; a prayer before the game and a fight during the game.
Clinton Gym also played host to some historic matchups with Jackson State, as William Carey was one of the few places in Mississippi that allowed blacks to play with whites. Jackson State was led by a pair of Hattiesburg brothers, Eugene and Purvis Short, who grew up in the neighborhood near William Carey. Both brothers would later play in the NBA, with Eugene being taken number 9 overall in the 1975 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks, and Purvis being drafted number 5 overall in 1978 by the Golden State Warriors.
Clinton Gym also had another notable instance happen in recent years – during halftime of a 2013 game, cheerleader Ashlee Arnau performed a halftime time stunt that became famous. With the ball placed at midcourt, Arnau approached with a running start, did a front-flip, grabbed the ball while upside down and then launched the ball towards the basket…and the ball went!!! The crowd of 1,000 or so people went crazy, and the play was featured on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays that night. In addition, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Fox News, and CNN all covered the stunt and interviewed her – see below for a video of the famous play: