The 28-year-old casual hire was very happy to see the opening in 1994 of what was then called the Special Events Arena.
“For me, it was a beautiful place. I was thankful for it because it meant they needed more people to work, and I got a job right after it opened,” he said. “I worked there for five years and it was a great experience.”
University of Hawaii athletic director David Matlin was an assistant ticket office manager at Manoa back then, looking for a more stable job at UH.
And he got it, as the new facility meant lower campus needed more staff, especially to sell tickets: The new 10,031-seat (later listed at 10,300) arena would sell out early and often, especially for the hugely popular and successful women’s volleyball team’s matches.
The Wahine no longer had to play their matches in overcrowded and muggy Klum Gym, and UH men’s basketball would now play at the new on-campus facility instead of at the Blaisdell Center, 21⁄2 miles toward downtown from Manoa and managed and operated by the City and County of Honolulu.
In coming years, standing-room-only crowds would also attend for men’s volleyball and basketball, conference, regional and national championships, and other non-UH related events, like NBA exhibitions.
The facility also regularly hosts high school state championships, and other events ranging from graduation ceremonies to robotics competitions to the 1998 Miss Universe Pageant. President Donald Trump owned the pageant then; he and his predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, have attended events at what is now known as the Stan Sheriff Center.
Today, Matlin is still grateful for the largest on-campus arena in the conference UH plays its court sports, the Big West.
“If you think about it, that’s probably the single biggest difference-maker for UH sports,” Matlin said. “We have a great arena, and Stan was really visionary. There aren’t many (college) arenas on the West Coast better. I think it really helps us.”
“Stan” is Stan Sheriff, the man for whom the facility’s name was changed to honor him in 1998. Sheriff was the UH athletic director from 1983 until his death on Jan. 16, 1993, following a heart attack after returning from NCAA meetings. Sheriff never got to see the facility he worked so hard to get built, which UH calls “the jewel of the athletics department.” But his legacy lives on not just in the building’s name and his bust near the turnstiles, but also in his son, Rich, who has been the arena manager since its opening.
“Rich does a great job running it and maintaining it,” Matlin said.
The first event, a women’s volleyball match against San Jose State on Oct., 21, 1994, sold out four days before the game.
But if some had their way, nearly 40 percent of the crowd would have been turned away. A political tug-of-war ensued over whether funds had been allotted for the 10,300-seat arena, or a 6,000-seat or even smaller venue.
A 1993 Honolulu Advertiser editorial called it “The Project That Ate Manoa,” and a “glamour project.” A state legislator claimed that “cost deficiencies” caused by the building’s $32.24 million construction price tag would adversely affect state-funded preschool programs. At a city council public hearing, a UH lecturer said students and professors were being “shortchanged” because of the new arena.
It was actually a political battle that had been waged nearly 50 years, since the final months of World War II. The idea of a major on-campus arena was first discussed by UH officials in January 1945.
In the end, the lobbying started by Sheriff and completed by his successor, Hugh Yoshida, won out.
“We owe Stan a great deal for this facility’s completion,” Yoshida said on the eve of its opening. “He did something similar while he was at Northern Iowa, and he came here to finish another one.”
Not many people have a football field and a court sports arena named after them. Sheriff Field is the name of the surface inside the UNI-Dome, where the Northern Iowa football team Sheriff coached plays its games (he was also athletic director there).
“I thought we’d get (an arena) eventually,” former UH basketball star Bob Nash said a month before its opening. “I just didn’t know if I’d be alive when it happened.”
Nash, an assistant coach when the arena opened, would also later be the Rainbows head coach with the Sheriff Center as home, and his son, Bobby, played there for UH.
The elder Nash often joked that it was easy to recruit Bobby because he knew his mother well. For attracting student-athletes who need more convincing, the Sheriff Center is a big help, Matlin said. Especially when the place is rocking.
“It doesn’t matter what sport they play — if they’re an athlete they’re probably going to enjoy arena sports, so that’s one of the stops for recruiting visits,” Matlin said. “Last year some of them went to the sold-out volleyball match against Long Beach State.”
They were among 10,000 maniacs who helped the Warriors to their first Big West championship.
“I moved here in ’93 and was not used to big-time volleyball,” Matlin said. “That exposure in the mid-1990s, thanks in part to the new arena, well, I was just in awe of the rock star image of both (volleyball) programs. Of course there were also those great basketball wins, but to me the volleyball is memorable because I wasn’t used to that.
“The energy is incredible. … We should be proud of the Sheriff Center.”
STAN SHERIFF CENTER BY THE NUMBERS
Cost of construction
Cost of new scoreboard installed in 2011
Square feet covered by the two concourse levels
Maximum seating capacity, making it the largest arena in the Big West Conference
Seating capacity at opening of arena in 1994
Attendance when Akron beat Oregon State 83-71 on Dec. 22, 2013. The largest crowd for a Diamond Head Classic game included President Barack Obama, whose brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, coached the Beavers.
Arena capacity in original master plan
Diameter, in feet
Most points scored in a game at the SSC by Hawaii, achieved on Nov. 21, 2013 in a 114-63 victory over Hawaii-Hilo, and again on Jan. 14, 2017 in a 114-107 overtime win against Long Beach State
Height of the arena in feet
Most points in a game by UH women, Feb. 7, 1998 in a 105-81 win over UNLV
Spaces for disabled seating on main concourse level
Most points scored in a men’s basketball game; Geno Crandall (North Dakota) vs. Troy, Nov. 10, 2017; Chase Fischer (BYU) vs. New Mexico, Dec. 23, 2015; Josh Akognon (Cal State Fullerton) vs. Hawaii, Nov. 16, 2008.
Most points scored by a UH men’s basketball player in a game, by Roderick Flemings vs. Cal Poly, Feb. 20, 2010
Fewest points scored by a team in a men’s college game, by Indiana State vs. Long Beach State in 2004
Points off the bench by Vince Carter, leading the United States national team to a win over Canada in 2000, on the way to the Sydney Olympics
Sellouts for UH men’s basketball. Hawaii’s record is 16-8 in those games; the Wahine volleyball team has had 14 sellouts
Consecutive home victories by the UH men’s basketball team, a streak starting in 2001 and ending in 2003
Size of shoe Shaquille O’Neal left at SSC as souvenir
Home match wins without a loss in 2004 for the UH women’s volleyball team that was undefeated before losing at Wisconsin in a regional semifinal and finishing 30-1
Months from June 15, 1993 groundbreaking to first event
Blocked shots in a game by a UH women’s player; Christen Roper vs. Texas Tech, Dec. 21, 2002 and Brittany Grice vs. UTEP, Jan. 20, 2005
(four men, four women)
Lower-campus parking fee, in dollars, for first event in 1994
National ranking of Kansas when Hawaii beat the Jayhawks 76-75 on Dec. 30, 1997 in the championship game of the Rainbow Classic
Marriage proposals (accepted). Chad Reis and Wahine volleyball player Emily Maeda started their engagement on Maeda’s senior night in 2012
SSC losses for 2019 UH men’s volleyball team that won all 19 home matches, including the Big West championship. Only three losses were at Long Beach State, including for the national championship.