The massive white pine trees could tell many stories of the happenings at Cameron Hall. What started as saplings planted around 1980 are now towering over the roof of the multipurpose facility as the VMI community and guests celebrate its 40th year.
The Dec. 11 basketball game against Gardner-Webb was a chance to mark the milestone. At halftime, a line of individuals staged across the court was introduced, passing a basketball along the way. Each person has a special connection to VMI basketball during its time so far in Cameron Hall, including several members of the VMI Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Miller, current interim athletic director, who was an assistant basketball coach for the Keydets in 1981. Others included Mike Strickler ’71, sports information director from 1977-92; Betsy Nicely, longtime basketball administrator; Reggie Williams ’08, one of only two VMI basketball alumni to play in the NBA and VMI’s all-time leading scorer; and Mike Herndon ’85, sixth all-time in most season and career blocks in VMI basketball history. As the halftime introductions wrapped up, Herndon passed the ball to his former teammate, Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, VMI superintendent, who made a shot to huge applause.
After the halftime celebration, the game was a nail-biter to the end, with VMI finishing on top, and Jake Stephens ’22, center, scoring the 1,000th point of his career. The final score was 64-61.
When Cameron Hall first opened in early November 1981, a weekend of celebrations took place to dedicate the building, which was named for Bruce B. Cameron, Class of 1938, and his brother, Daniel D. Cameron ’42, both civil engineering graduates who financed a significant portion of the nearly $7 million project. Funds given by the Virginia General Assembly and raised by the VMI Foundation paid for the rest. At the dedication, Vincent J. Thomas ’43, then-president of the Board of Visitors, gave each of the Cameron brothers a life ticket good for every event at Cameron Hall. Daniel passed away in 2005 and Bruce in 2013.
The groundbreaking ceremony was held during summer 1979, and a wide variety of events was planned for the building, including sporting events, plays, concerts, and special speakers, plus the inclusion of offices, locker rooms, and racquetball courts. From the very beginning, it was expected to benefit the entire Lexington-Rockbridge community. Over the years, upgrades have included new hardwood floors and a new roof in 2017, which had a $780,000 price tag. The basketball playing surface, Costen Court, named for Ralph Costen ’70, was originally dedicated during the 2007-08 basketball season. In 2012, under the direction of Costen Floors Inc., the floor was redone.
The first basketball game held in Cameron Hall was on Dec. 5, 1981, against the University of Virginia. A 4th Class cadet by the name of Cedric Wins became the first Keydet player to score in Cameron Hall. He, of course, is now the Institute’s 15th superintendent.
“Cameron Hall helped sustain VMI basketball into a new era and continued the tradition of a tough place to play for opponents just as ‘The Pit’ did in earlier years. Many players and coaches, both VMI and opponents, have expressed what a home-court advantage it has given them when the Corps is in the stands at full force. The results speak for themselves,” said Wade Branner ’83, associate athletic director for athletic communications. Branner was a cadet involved in sports information when Cameron Hall opened its doors and just happened to be running the scoreboard during that 1981 inaugural game. He was also one of the special guests recognized on the court during the 40th birthday celebration.
The Cameron brothers were honored with the Spirit of VMI Award Jan. 17, 2009, the same night that Cameron Hall saw record-high attendance of just over 5,000 fans. The game was against nearby rival Liberty University and featured a 35-point performance from Liberty’s Seth Curry, an eventual NBA player.
In addition to seeing thousands of cadets matriculate, graduate, and get their class rings, Cameron Hall has seen some pretty special moments and hosted a diverse group of some very special guests. Memorable speakers include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Vice President Mike Pence, among others. Four U.S. presidents have spoken in Cameron Hall: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and both Bushes. Many governors of Virginia, also known as the commanders-in-chief of the VMI Corps of Cadets, have visited since 1981.
“The moments captured in, and individuals that have passed through, Cameron Hall over the last four decades are what make this place extraordinary,” said Wins. “People have been inspired, cheered our teams to victory, cried, walked across the stage to receive class rings and diplomas, and said farewell to their cadetship in this building. The memories that I carry and will continue to experience in Cameron Hall will forever stand out.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, markers were placed on seats throughout the facility to allow for social distancing during events like matriculation and the Ring Figure presentation in 2020. Cadets were very limited to the number of guests they could have in attendance. Strict limits were also placed on basketball tickets during the 2020-21 season.
Prior to the construction of Marshall Hall, the annual Environment Virginia conference was held in Cameron Hall. The facility has also been home to graduation ceremonies for Rockbridge County and Parry McCluer High Schools, band competitions, and science fairs. And true to its community commitment, Cameron Hall has been designated as a state emergency shelter in times of mass emergency.
Maj. Michelle Ellwood VMI Communications & Marketing