Seeing Southern Indiana's Great Old Gyms
George Padgitt '09 - Thus far, my Present Indiana travels have only taken me to big town gyms or gyms that are no longer in use for varsity basketball, but Cannelton and Huntingburg are a whole new beast. Both towns are home to gymnasiums that can more or less hold the town’s population, and testify to the importance of high school basketball in small town Indiana.
This year Cannelton High School graduated only 15 kids. It is one of the very few towns across the state of Indiana that has managed to escape consolidation through the years, and its basketball gymnasiums have always been at the center of the community.
I say gymnasiums because in the late 90s Cannelton built a new varsity basketball facility, but the town’s original gym, built in the mid-1920s, is still standing. The old gymnasium is bursting with character. It can be found in the center of town, upstairs, in a building that once also housed the firehouse, police station, and town hall. If that does not speak to the importance of high school basketball in the Cannelton community, then nothing could.
Even still, the new gymnasium might be more central to the community than the old gym ever was. It was funded mainly by a grant from the state that requires it to be available to the community for use at virtually all times. It is open for the townspeople every day and essentially free to rent out, requiring just a refundable 50 dollar deposit, which has made it very popular within the community. It is used for everything from banquets to birthday parties to church lock-ins.
The 7,000 seat gymnasium in Huntingburg is not used for nearly as many things as the gym in Cannelton, but the pride of the town has in its gymnasium and tradition is what makes it special. While in Huntingburg, I had the pleasure of speaking with Gene Morgan, who played for the Huntingburg Hunters, now the Southridge Raiders, in the early 1950s. He compared the gymnasium and its fans to the Indianapolis 500, describing it as the “greatest spectacle in high school basketball.” His sense of pride is evidenced in the community playing a major role in funding the original construction of the gymnasium and a recent 250,000 dollar renovation. Most of the money for both was raised from local businesses and citizens.
Overall the trip to southern Indiana was a big success. I was able to see a whole new side to Indiana high school basketball and its historic gymnasiums. Towns like Cannelton and Huntingburg are what really separate Indiana from the rest of the country in terms of high school basketball mystique.
In photos: Top right, the huge Huntingburg gym was busy even on a June day. Lower left, the historic Cannelton gymnasium.