Cabby makes for memorable move to Hoosier life

Sitting in Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium last Tuesday night while Jasper collected a decisive victory against defending Class 1A champion Loogootee, the following thought occurred to me: I’m sure going to miss this place.

When you move to a new town and don’t have any friends, such as I did a few years ago after finishing my graduate work at Indiana University, you cling to familiar feelings. That’s why I secretly hoped I’d draw every assignment at Cabby and wound up at there most nights to watch a game if I didn’t have to cover something else.

I couldn’t stay away from the place.

I grew up about 15 minutes from Penn State’s University Park campus, where I saw Michigan’s Fab Five play at Rec Hall. A few years ago, I saw Butler and Duke play in the NCAA championship on Jumbotrons at Hinkle Fieldhouse; the venue was open to fans, who created an enormous sports-bar-type feel, minus the alcohol, as their Bulldogs battled the Blue Devils a few miles away at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Each experience was memorable on its own, but the environment in which each game was played greatly enhanced the experience.

Rec Hall and Hinkle Fieldhouse are anything but expansive arenas. Combined, they house a little less than 17,000 fans. Yes, Butler wasn’t playing at Hinkle for the title, but the fans boomed so loud I could hardly imagine how difficult it’d be for opposing players to concentrate during a game.

After his Indiana team won at Rec Hall in early 1995, Bobby Knight called the arena “a great playing addition to the Big Ten.” It’s impossible to imagine the former Hoosier coach saying the same for Bryce Jordan Center, where Penn State moved its home games during the 1995-96 season. The place is too big. I attended a game there during Christmas break and was able to hear Penn State coach Patrick Chambers’ every word during certain portions of the contest. Sure, the students were on break and Penn State hasn’t been competitive in hoops in pretty much forever, but Rec Hall gave the Nittany Lions an enormous advantage. Hinkle does the same for Butler.

Most importantly, each arena gives fans the opportunity to actually feel like they have a role in the outcome. It’s easy to surmise the level of difficulty increases when opposing coaches and players feel like they’re being breathed upon in a microwave-like building as opposed to a 15,000-seat gym that’s two-thirds empty.

I realize this analogy may not make sense to some people. These types of comparisons aren’t easily quantifiable. But Cabby gives off the same vibe, to me at least, as Rec Hall and Hinkle.

Last year, I wrote a screenplay about two brothers who coach high school basketball in southern Indiana. While I didn’t base the script on any specific events I’ve witnessed since I started covering games in the area, the energy and atmosphere of being in places like Cabby is undeniable. That’s where I drew the inspiration for the screenplay.

I’m not one of those people to subscribe to the notion that everything happens for a reason. To me, stuff just happens sometimes and there’s not much you can do about it. But the thought does occur to me that if I had attended IU for grad school in any year other than the one I did, I wouldn’t have been part of the news bureau team at IU that covered the Final Four, and thus would have missed seeing Hinkle. Likewise, if I had ended up in Dubois County for any other brief period than I did, Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium would be just another building I drive by without ever realizing the awesome feeling it’s capable of creating on a Friday or Saturday night. Or heck, Tuesday night.

Cabby means a lot to quite a few people, but for a kid from central Pennsylvania who’s spent the last 3 1/2 years in southern Indiana, the historic gym has made my transition to Hoosier life a heck of a lot more enjoyable and memorable. 

Herald sportswriter John Patishnock, who (no joke) dreamed Monday night he played on the IU’s men’s basketball team and threw an alley-oop pass to Cody Zeller, can be reached at 482-2626 ext. 118 or at jpatishnock@dcherald.com.




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