For two years Dubby Holt was the swimming coach at Idaho State. Now there is nothing unique about that: the world is full of swimming coaches. What made Dubby different is that he can't swim. The day Idaho State completed a 9 and 1 season, the team threw Dubby in the pool. At the shallow end. When ISU needed a boxing coach, Dubby was the man. He had never been in a ring in his life. His teams won NCAA boxing championships in 1953 and 1957. "I was hired as the assistant football and head track coach but I got all those other jobs like a game of tag," Dubby says. "Some guy kept pointing his finger at me and saying, 'Dubby, you're it.' "
Track was something else. The conference used to mail Dubby the championship trophy before the season. In 18 years he won 13 titles. But this was his sport. He was a 9.5 sprinter for Fresno State. And for Idaho State. And for Idaho. "Dubby is the only guy who ever competed in 10 NCAA outdoor championships," says Dr. William E. Davis, Idaho State's president. "Finally they got tired of looking at him and declared him ineligible in 1941. Just when he had scholarships lined up at USC. And Kansas. And Alabama."
And so in 1965, when Dubby calmly announced that he was thinking of building a miniature Astrodome in Pocatello (pop. 40,000), nobody was awfully startled. "I knew he was a genius," says Dr. Davis. "Now I figured he was also out of his tree."
Dubby, who by this time was ISU's athletic director, was also by this time undauntable. "Doc," he said to Dr. Davis, "we've got a stadium that looks like it was unearthed with some Indian relics. With our weather, anybody who goes to a game there should give up drinking. We're spending $100,000 a year on football and taking in $20,000. And our gym. We can't have a basketball doubleheader because the place won't hold that many people. Either we make a move or we should get out of the athletic business."
February 14, 1972
Once the football coach at the University of Colorado, Dr. Davis is sports-minded. Also, he can subtract $20,000 from $100,000.
Last weekend, just before the start of the Bennion Games, an invitational track meet in ISU's $2.8 million Mini-Dome, Dubby said, "When the president went for my idea, everybody thought he was a little wacky, too."
And so while Dr. Davis set off in search of money, Dubby began conferring with an architect. Dubby got his plans; Dr. Davis got the money—from the 9,000-strong Idaho State student body, which had dubbed Dubby's dream house the "Half-Astrodome." The money would come from a bond issue but it would have to be repaid from student fees, and the students would have to approve the plan in a referendum. Dr. Davis gave it to them in a package: if they would agree to a $20-per-semester hike in fees, he would put $7.50 of it in a scholarship fund. "I'll buy it," said 59% of the student body.
Wanting the complete facility and deciding it was time Idaho discovered indoor track, Dubby called Pro-West, a New Mexico firm that makes superfast indoor surfaces. "I've only got $30,000, can you build me a track?" said Dubby. "No," said Pro-West. But a few days later a company official called back. "You let us put the track in during the winter and we'll do it," he said. "Usually we lay off our people then but we want to keep them working." And so Dubby got his track: a 220-yard oval plus a 140-yard straightaway. It came in 101 sections of four-by eight-foot plywood, and Dubby had it stored in an old warehouse. When Dr. Davis saw the pile of lumber, he shuddered. "Dubby," he said, "what in God's name have you bought?" Dubby told him not to worry. The Mini-Dome would have 12,000 permanent seats, and he would guarantee Saturday night sellouts. "What the heck," he said, "what else can you do in Pocatello on a Saturday night?"
Construction began in September of 1968, and the dome was finished in time for the spring football game of 1970. Shaped like a swollen Quonset hut, covering 3½ acres and with its ceiling 108 feet above the ground at its highest point (compared to the Astrodome's 208 feet), the Mini-Dome drew 8,000 fans to the spring game. "They came out to see if the place was going to fall down," Dubby says. Since then, ISU has had crowds of 8,000 for track, 12,000 to 14,000 for football (against 3,500 to 4,000 in the good cold out-of-doors), and as many as 18,000 for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Selling football, basketball and the Hallelujah Chorus was easy. Track was something else. Until the Mini-Dome rose, ISU had never drawn more than 300 fans to an outdoor meet, and the nearest indoor board tracks were in Portland, 500 miles to the west, and in Kansas City, 1,000 miles to the east.
"These people didn't know a 3:58 mile from a 4:58 mile," says Dubby. "The most discouraging thing in the world is to be a track coach in Idaho. We had to educate them."
While being educated, people can watch track meets in the Mini-Dome for $2 apiece. Or they can pay $5 for a family ticket and bring six people. It's a steal. In the first seven meets, 11 world records were either tied or broken. It must be admitted that these include such exotica as the 120-yard high hurdles, the steeplechase without the water jump and the 880-yard relay, events very rarely, if ever, run under a roof beyond the city limits of Pocatello.
"While we are educating our fans, we are also spoiling them," Dubby says. "They are still learning, but they know all about world records. And if they don't get one, they get mad."
Last Saturday night, Al Feuerbach, the mustachioed shotputter from San Jose, didn't let them down. While winning his seventh straight meet, he put the shot 69'4¾", shattering his own indoor world mark of 68'11".
"I'm glad he waited for the Mini-Dome to do that," said Mrs. Ed Cavanaugh, the wife of ISU's football coach and one of the 7,000 fans who saw Feuerbach's mighty heave. "I really love this place. And you know what I love about it, as a football coach's wife, I mean? I can go to a game and I can be warm. I mean really warm. God bless Dubby."