It is truly a hallowed place.
The history of Indiana high school basketball started in Crawfordsville. The first game of basketball in the nation played outside of its Springfield, Massachusetts birthplace was in Crawfordsville.
The first state champion was Crawfordsville.
There is no stretch of the imagination that the gymnasium where the Athenians played for 53 years contains more memories than you can list in even a long setting.
Yesterday we reminisced about the County Tournament, but that is only a third of the story of the gym.
There were also 31 sectional tournaments, played in a row. Another treasure chest of memories.
Crawfordsville’s varsity team will take the floor tonight against Covington, a long-time opponent (tonight will be the 80th meeting). In fact, the last win at the old gym was against the Trojans, on a night that back in ‘93, they called Nostalgia Night.
“It was amazing,” said Brad Acton, who was the Crawfordsville coach that night. “There were pep band folks from decades past, all sitting together and playing music. There were cheerleaders from decades past, all dressed up and doing cheers. There were what seemed like hundreds of former players there. It was a once in a lifetime night. It was priceless.”
The Athenians won that game, but lost the next home game, which was the last. Darren Haas hit a field goal at the buzzer to tie the game and send it to overtime, but Greencastle won in overtime.
They took the nets down, and packed up the game ball, saving it for the trip to the new high school. It was the last memory.
“It’s all the history and tradition,” Acton continued, noting that his father coached at Bowers and thus had coached a game or two in the county tourney in that same gym. “I got to play a game here (with Brownsburg), watched a game or two and coached a bunch of games. It is truly humbling — it gets to you.”
No one ever disputed the home court advantage for Crawfordsville.
“It was 150 degrees in the dressing rooms, the lighting wasn’t the best all the time,” Acton said, “but it was a special place, it definitely was a home court advantage for us, and I’m so proud to have been part of that.”
Matt McCarty, who holds the single-game scoring record in the old gym, and then for good measure, set the single-game scoring record in the new gym, loved to shoot it in the old place, but remembered some of the other tidbits.
“I remember times when it was so loud in the locker room that Coach Acton just had to shout to be heard,” he said. “The noise of the band and crowd was just intense, and the little locker rooms were under the bleachers. There was no place like it.”
McCarty’s record 42 points came on a January night in ‘93 against Central Catholic. In addition to the record number of points, the sharpshooter was 10-of-10 from three-point range, which today still stands as the best long-range shooting game in state history.
“I grew up learning to shoot at a basket that my dad put up in the back yard,” McCarty said. “If you can shoot there, you can shoot anywhere. I was blessed to be successful in that old gym. There were a lot of good teams and players that came through that gym — I have lots of good memories.”
Another pretty good shooter spend some time at the CHS gym.
“The C’ville gym always had me in awe,” said Matt Petty, who was an Indiana All-Star in 1989. “From the first time I saw a game when I was 6 or 7 to the last game we played against Greencastle, I loved that place and it was good to me! I still think about it today. Our schedule was great. Besides North and South which were always sellouts, Lafayette Jeff, Harrison, Central Catholic, Lebanon, Manual, West Lafayette were big time games and big time crowds. Our crowd and the visiting team crowd were right on the court and it would get so hot they would open the windows in the middle of winter to try and cool it off. We beat Jeff who had the Mr. Basketball, Central Catholic with the Barrett’s, Lebanon with Richie Mount, the battles with McCutcheon, I could go on and on.”
The memories of the gym were as good as the memories of teammates.
“All of it was awesome,” Petty continued. “To be able to play for great coaches (Gary Lester, Pete Utterback and Gary Lynn), great teammates, but more so with all of my guys (Troy Noard, Scott Pearson, Shawn Coyle, Keith Gudell, Pat Lee, Scott Motz, etc.) in that gym for four years was my dream. Lastly, I would go in during “study halls,” shoot free throws in the dark, with light coming through the windows, and that gym was the most peaceful place in the world.”
Petty also asked for a special thanks.
“Mike and Jill Shubert were the best. Jill would come down and sit with me on the bench under our basket and give me a Snickers bar before every game and wish us good luck. They were and are some of the most genuine people I will ever know and I can never thank them enough.”
Coach Lester, retired and on a national parks and visit state capitol buildings tour, also talked about the old gym.
“What a home court,” he said. “The crowd was right on top of you, the walls were so close, it was loud and hot, but our ‘87 team didn’t lose a home game and we had a 15-game home win streak there. It was our place.”
Lester even took a step out to take a look back.
“It was against Southmont,” he said. “It was about the third quarter of the JV game and it was just so hot, I walked outside to find some cool air. I walked across the street and then I turned back to look at the old building. The lights were all on, there was unbelievable noise coming out, and there were still people walking towards the place to get in. It was alive, and that’s always been my definition of Hoosier Hysteria ever since.”
Utterback came to Crawfordsville as a teacher and coach, and stayed around. The impact of Crawfordsville hoops and the old building was not lost on him.
“In the 1986-87 season, a school from out of town (which shall remain nameless) came in with a long winning streak,” the assistant coach said. “Our varsity team beat them, and they paid us back by trashing the visitors’ locker room. In the 1987-88 season, my JV team beat Lafayette Jeff at home. Our team played so well, and my parents were in attendance that night. Celebrating in the old CHS gym after we won the sectional at North Montgomery on March 4, 1989, was undoubtedly my best memory. Matt Petty had just hit a 3-point shot as the horn sounded in OT to help us win the sectional championship against McCutcheon. Afterwards, our bus rolled in to the school parking lot. Fans, families and friends were there to greet us. Inside the gym, coaches and players got to speak. Quite a celebration ensued. What a feeling! Our ‘home-court advantage’ had definitely won some games for us.
When CHS became the Athena Center, I took my kids over to shoot baskets, and I would share my stories with them. On other days, I would have the gym to myself, just to walk and reflect. But I wasn’t by myself … my former players, the fans, and our opponents were all with me at the old Crawfordsville High School gymnasium.”
Bruce Whitehead, retired athletic director, helped keep the ship upright and running during all the busy times.
“It’s a history site,” Whitehead said. “It was built as a WPA project in 1940, attached to the 1910 school that was the home of the first state champion, and then provided 53 years of service and history for the school and the county. I’m just so glad that Bryce (Barton) and the school administration went to the efforts of playing another game here. I also think that it might be possible that it will be 10 feet and about a half inch or so to the rim from the floor. There has been a lot of sanding since 1940, and when we were getting ready to leave in 1993, the floor was close to wearing out. It will be fun to watch another game on it.”
A floor that has had the sneakers of Oscar Robertson, Rick Mount, Billy Shepherd and other Mr. Basketball Award winners run over it, not to mention the many all-stars, from state to conference to county levels.
Plus the several thousand who didn’t get an award, but just have the memory of playing in a hallowed place.