INSTITUTE, W.Va. - So much of Betty Spencer's life has been spent inside Fleming Hall, it seemed such a shame she couldn't attend the final game played on the court named for her father.
Spencer, who is in the hospital, was born in 1946 - the year after her father, Mark Cardwell, began coaching basketball at West Virginia State. Her life has spanned eight decades, and until the past two seasons - when health issues began to mount - she'd missed few home games.
"Not many," she said. "Until the last two seasons, that's about it."
W.Va. State defeated the University of Virginia at Wise, 84-81, Tuesday night in the Yellow Jackets' penultimate regular season game. Saturday's season finale against the University of Charleston will be part of a ballyhooed weekend revolving around the debut of State's new hoops home: the Convocation Center at Fleming Hall. The $19 million renovation and expansion of the building, erected in 1942, will finally move the Yellow Jackets into a sorely needed 1,350-seat arena.
That means basketball games on the Institute campus will no longer be played on Mark Cardwell Court, a dedication revealed before the 2013 season. Spencer said she appreciates the name of her father - in script and plain font - on the old gymnasium hardwood instead of the new arena.
This is where most of her memories remain.
"It was just a fun building," she said Tuesday from her hospital bed. "We lived in Institute and seldom did we leave there back in the '50s; there weren't a lot of things to do. It was a segregated neighborhood and we didn't have skating rinks and we didn't have movie theaters. The gym was like our activity grounds."
While Mark Cardwell compiled 288 career basketball victories - still the winningest coach in program history ahead of current coach Bryan Poore, who earned win No. 279 on Tuesday - Spencer grew up with her brother and friends on campus. She'd pitch in by washing uniforms, folding them and making sure travel bags were ready for road trips. Because of the dearth of restaurant options, she'd help make sandwiches and pack apples and oranges for the coaches and players to take for away games.
Spencer experienced her own sports success, too. The 1967 W.Va. State graduate was a four-year member of the school's swim team and a three-year starter on the basketball team. She was a multi-year captain in both sports and even dabbled in tennis.
"She is a huge part of West Virginia State University and its athletics," Poore said. "Her father was such a great coach and person and led the college to extremely high places when he was here. Betty has always been around, always had a good word to say and always kept us fed.
"She's been here since Day 1."