The roof was blown off the Hara Arena during storms and tornadoes on May 27-28, 2019.

Katz: In aftermath of tornado, here’s hoping some of Hara Arena survives

A metal spiral staircase led from the second floor to the Hara Arena press box, a cozy expanse that hung from the wall and ceiling above the last row of seats in the even cozier 5,550-seat arena.

It protruded over 2-3 rows of seats in the one-tier building, and while there were plenty of faults concerning the architecture, the placement of that press box wasn’t one of them, especially for Dayton Gems hockey games.

»PHOTOS: Hara Arena through the years

You hardly needed to move your head to see everything, from the day coach Tom McVie tore off his plaid sport coat, hurling it to the ice; to the time Bill Riley challenged the entire Fort Wayne bench after slamming Komets’ goalie Robbie Irons into the boards behind the net; to the day defenseman Lorne Weighill had a tendon in his wrist slashed.

Weighill had a trainer tape his hand to his stick and finished the game.

Wacky radio personality Steve Kirk, who often doubled as public address announcer for the International Hockey League’s Gems, leaned over, almost into the crowd.

During ads for a sports drink. Kirk asked fans what they’d use to quench their thirst, the answer always being the name of that drink.

»RELATED: A legacy of memories at Hara Arena

One night after the crowd dutifully gave the expected answer, Kirk quickly retorted, “No, it’s beer, and it always has been beer.”

Kirk’s still around, retired somewhere in Florida, but I’m not so sure about the survival of that spiral staircase, press box or Kirk’s sports drink notes.

A tornado came through recently, and the facility – opened in 1964 and closed in 2016 – did not fare well.

Dust to dust: In 1964, as Hara was being built, a gas explosion blew out the front of the arena, which was repaired in time for the opening game. Now comes a mess of even more consequence. A recent story suggested the developer who currently owns the place could salvage some of it, but I’m not sure.

The Dayton Gems practice on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, at Hara Arena.
Photo: Chris Stewart/Chris Stewart

To some on social media, the place looked upgraded from the years of disuse and lack of full maintenance. That’s mean.

Let’s face it, the place never was modern or updated, even during the year it opened. Spare parts never did have to match at Hara. They just had to fit.

But you didn’t go there to sit on a soft cushion. What a place to watch a hockey game!

Spectators were close enough to take part, if they wanted. I remember a cardiologist and banker jumping out of their seats, pounding on the protective Plexiglas surrounding the playing surface if they didn’t care for the play of an opposing opponent.

»DATABASE: Hara Arena’s concert history

Players sometimes swiped back with their sticks.

The rink was some 15 feet short of regulation and the team benches were placed outside the neutral zone, leading to potential offside violations on line changes.

But it didn’t matter if you were in the first row or the last row; you could see everything.

Nobody who saw a game at Hara Arena didn’t think it was exciting.

My then pre-teen daughter attended a birthday party at a game one day, when I was out of town on another assignment.

“Dad,” a breathless Rachel said to me on the telephone after that game. “You should have seen the fight.”

I told her that happened in hockey, where the teams often became involved in fights.

“Yes,” she said, “but this fight was in the stands.”

Yeah, that happened too, on occasion.

I don’t miss a lot of places where I covered sporting events over more than four decades, but I miss Hara. I sure hope some of it survives.

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