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Boomers Journal: Silence is golden

The silence was deafening when I entered the old gym. I thought to myself, “Everyone from Evansville must have their favorite moment in here.” Whether it was a nail-biting basketball game, a pep-fest, a wrestling match, practices, concerts, class plays, homecoming, recess, graduation… the minute you walk into these four walls… the sounds that once were, come right back at you.

I stood in the middle of the gym floor, where basketball tip-offs started games. I reflected. I could hear the loudest horn ever known to mankind: the time-clock set up in the corner. It was blaring, telling us it was time to start. Or, time to stop. Its hair-raising blast was nerve-wracking when a game went into overtime, sounding even more awful when we lost. It was clearly music to our ears when we celebrated victory.

As I walked along the boundary lines of the old basketball court I could smell the popcorn coming from the concession stand. Along the court, the black line was only about 12 inches from each wall. This was probably the biggest complaint that visiting teams had about our gym. Players would crash into the wrestling-mat-covered brick walls on each end of the basketball court.

We didn’t mind. Out-of-towners could talk all they wanted about home-team advantage. Clearly, it was our players and fans that made us winners.

Our gym. Oh, our old school gym. There would never be another one like it.  I could hear the stomping from the balcony; I could hear the laughter, the screams, the cheers and the school song. “Hail, hail to Evansville, the champions of the best.” The proud blue and white. The gym was still alive.

The door leading into the gym was always crowded with people who couldn’t find a place to sit. Depending on who you were, what you did, or what age you were at, you looked for your seat in the house. They were almost “assigned” when you think about it.

Back in the heyday, when basketball games were packed to the rafters, fathers sat on the stage, on metal folding chairs lined up in rows. Grade-school boys sat on the edge with their legs dangling. They sometimes got in the way of the referee running up and down the court, or one might have caught a stray ball or two.

If you were a mother who had a son playing, you might have been seated in one of the three rows of seats under the balcony. As a mom, you sat kind of in the middle of the mix, behind or next to the score-keeping-clock-monitoring guys, behind the player’s bench, nudging toward the side that was kind of reserved for the hometown fans.  As a mom you really were kind of responsible for a lot of things.  It was, after all, your son who would be the hero in securing a Tiger victory.

A small corner under the balcony, and in the balcony, was reserved for the visiting team’s parents and fans.

If you were one of the band members, you were seated next to the cement steps that led up to the balcony. The pep-band took up the full three rows and one-quarter of the section of hard, wood-covered cement slabs under the balcony. The band made up a good portion of the student body. They were the faithful. They not only played instruments, they were the screamers that cheerleaders depended on. When not cheering on the floor during timeouts, cheerleaders squeezed onto the balcony steps and in front of the door that led to the boys’ locker room. Kids were seated on each step of the stairs leading up to the balcony.

Other parts of the student body filled the balcony, the place where the thunder stomping came from. Occasionally arms and legs were flailing over the iron rails. The ringside seat was front row and center in the balcony. The brave stood in the back row. Or, maybe it wasn’t bravery at all. They just stood in order to try and see the action on the court.  I’m not sure whether a fire in the building was ever any concern, but our high school principal, Mr. Kaess, was always busy keeping chaos under control.

Ahh, the old gym. Evansville isn’t the only town that has one. There are lots of old gyms around, repurposed for a new life. Glenwood, Villard, Cyrus, Barrett, Hoffman, Alexandria…the list can go on. Next fall District 206 in Alexandria will move from Jefferson High School to its new multi-purpose gym in a brand new high school building. My guess is that anyone who walked, talked, played or danced in any of those old gyms has a memory. New gymnasiums are built, yet old memories remain. Think about it.

The memories spoke loud and clear as I stood in the middle of my old gym this winter. I pinched myself as I was taken back to March 1971. The pep-band was playing the theme from Hawaii Five-O.  I was part of the cheering student body, one of the seniors that experienced the last Little-Eight Conference basketball game before the next graduating class would begin playing Tiger “home” games in a brand new gymnasium. I could hear the pep-band and I could see Harold, Larry, Big Brad, Doug, Monty and Lee, seniors all playing at some point in their last home game. I could see the kids in the balcony and parents on the stage. I could just smell the popcorn.

The vision was clear. The silence was deafening, and yet… IS golden.

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