WARSAW — Far from the neatly polished hardwood floors and spacious seating of today’s high school gyms, venues used for high school basketball in the early 1900s would be considered highly unusual by today’s standards. Practices were sometimes held outdoors even in colder weather and games were played above hardware stores, in community buildings or even in old livery stables — wherever a team could find a place to play.
Especially from about 1913 to the late 1920s, many high schools did not have gyms. Administrators typically thought basketball and gyms were “a waste of time” and the popularity of the sport had not yet begun to escalate.
Silver Lake High School had been playing basketball outdoors, possibly in the town park, before moving indoors in 1919 above what is now the Silver Inn tavern on East Main Street, according to the book “The Silver Lake Experience: 1859 to 2009,” by Laurie Voss. They played on that upstairs court until 1927 when they moved to the Blue Lantern Dance Hall at Silver Lake. A few years later the school gym was built.
Former Silver Inn owner Jack Warren remembers being upstairs once and seeing “Silver Lake Ramblers,” (Ramblers was the school nickname) etched on the bricks.
Tom Sittler, who played for Silver Lake in the 1950s and later coached high school basketball for several years, remembers his father telling him the court upstairs was similar to a cage because it was surrounded by wire fencing. Paul Sittler, Tom’s father, played for Silver Lake in the early 1920s, graduating in 1922.
Tom Sittler said he believes the games were actually played above a building a couple of doors to the west of the tavern on the same side of Main Street.
Before Pierceton High School’s gym was built, the team played in an old livery barn on the south side of Catholic Street, about one block east of First Street (SR 13), said local historian Joan Hostetler. According to the Mentone High School 1926 yearbook, the basketball team played in old store buildings and the old grist mill near the railroad tracks prior to the Mentone Community Building being opened in 1926. Games were played in the community building until a gym was added to the high school in 1953.
Etna Green High School played games above Hamlin’s General Store and also in Coar’s Hall, an entertainment venue where the town’s Thanksgiving fair was held for many years.
A photo in the 1919 North Webster High School yearbook shows the first basketball court was outdoors and the players practiced in all types of weather. Later games were played above what is now the NAPA store on Main Street (SR 13), said longtime local resident Phil Metcalf.
Sidney High School played basketball games above what is now Spangles Country Crossing on Main Street (SR 13) right by the railroad tracks before the school gym was built in the 1920s.
Leesburg High School had played games on an outdoor court and also in an upstairs room above a downtown business. An old factory building was purchased and remodeled and then opened in 1923 as a community building. Basketball was played there until a school gym was built in 1939.
In Atwood, a community building was built in 1922 on Harrison Street near the railroad tracks and was used for basketball until the school gym was built.
Before Claypool High School’s gym was built, the team boarded a train and went to South Whitley to play, then also above stores in Sidney and Silver Lake. Later the team found a room above the hardware store in Claypool and a few other stores, as well as the old Brethren church that was torn down several years ago.
Syracuse High School played basketball in an upstairs gym above the old high school on Washington Street, but the fire marshal ordered the gym closed. Later the team played in the Syracuse Community Building on East Pearl Street beginning in 1926.
Milford High School played games in a sale pavilion building at James and Emeline streets before the school gym was built.
Warsaw High School played ball above what was Sharp’s Hardware on Center Street, which is now a parking lot for city hall. A community building was built in Warsaw in 1922 and located where Lakeview Middle School is now.
Beaver Dam High School had a basketball team as far back as 1913 as shown in a yearbook. From then until the Burket gym was built in 1919, it is not known where they played though it could have been on a concrete pad outside the school building. The team played in the Burket gym for a while and also in the former Eli Turnbull mill in Mentone.
Burket High School may not have had a basketball team before the gym was built.