WARSAW — Uneven floors with dead spots that would buckle when a basketball was dribbled on that spot. Low ceilings, wooden backboards, stages and bleachers that were literally as close to the playing court as possible.
Those are partial descriptions of the some of the gymnasiums high school basketball was played in during the pre-consolidation era. Although it has been more than 50 years since the process of consolidation began, plenty of memories of those gyms remain embedded in hearts and minds.
In Kosciusko County, several of those gyms remain standing. Bill Patrick, legendary local high school basketball coach who played basketball for Sidney High School in the 1950s, remembers playing in those gyms.
“Most (gyms) were not 84 feet long,” he said, “but a few were the right (regulation) size.”
Coaches wisely took advantage of those smaller sized gyms by playing a zone defense and giving opposing teams less room to maneuver on the floor. “You had a smaller area to cover on defense,” he said.
At Burket, for example, a low ceiling meant a higher arching shot would literally hit the ceiling. And most of the older gyms had a stage at one end of the floor where school plays, graduations and other activities were held.
Of the remaining gyms in the county, Atwood’s has an unusual story. Located on CR 700W and now used by Hope Church, the gym was originally built in 1949 and 1950. Atwood High School did not have a home gym prior to this and had for several years played home games at Etna Green. Prior to that, the team had played home games in a building just south of the railroad tracks in Atwood.
Several farmers decided to do something about this so they found a hangar at Baer Field in Fort Wayne and brought it back in pieces using several trucks. Then it was put back together and all local people built the gym floor, bleachers and everything else needed with the hangar serving as the roof.
After the high school closed in the 1960s, the building and gym were used as an elementary school for several years until the elementary was closed and children were sent to Warsaw for school. Hope Church had the gym extensively remodeled including removing the bleachers and putting carpeting on the gym floor, but the stage and hangar shaped roof remain.
Syracuse High School dedicated a new gym in November 1955 seating more than 2,000 and at that time it was considered one of the nicest, if not the nicest, gyms in Kosciusko County. Nice enough to host three sectional tourneys in a row from 1956 to 1958 won respectively by Warsaw, Pierceton and Etna Green.
After the high school closed in 1968, the gym was still used by a junior high and later an elementary school. A new Syracuse Elementary was built a few years ago, but the gym remains in the old elementary on Brooklyn Street.
Burket’s gym is still in remarkably good condition. It was used for basketball until 1955 when Burket High School closed and students were sent to either Beaver Dam or Mentone. Today the gym is part of an alternative school for the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation.
North Webster’s gym is now part of the community center on SR 13. It was built in 1956 after a fire earlier that year.
Silver Lake’s gym is still perilously standing on Sycamore Street. The school was ordered to be demolished by the town last year, but was staved off by an appeal and the legal process is pending. The school was built in 1930.
In Leesburg, the gym was built in 1939 as part of an addition to the school. It was used by Leesburg Elementary for several years after the high school closed and is now part of the corporate headquarters for Maple Leaf Farms.
Sidney’s gym on Main Street has been used as a flea market and the rest of the building is now a private residence. Claypool’s gym built in the early 1950s remains. A new school was built around the gym in the 1990s.
Lakeview Middle School in Warsaw was originally the high school and opened in 1962. And Mentone’s gym, built in 1952, is now part of Mentone Elementary.