Cats, Pats to meet Saturday at Cabby

Herald File Photo
Bleachers at Cabby O'Neill Gymnasium in Jasper. 


JASPER — The present meets the past Saturday when Jasper takes on Heritage Hills.

The Wildcats will welcome the Patriots to Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium, the first varsity basketball game to be held at Cabby since Jasper girls came away with a 44-34 victory against Mount Vernon on Jan. 24, 2015. The venue has played its role to the longstanding history and tradition that is Jasper basketball. Jasper first used the gymnasium back in the 1939-40 school year. The Wildcats played their first game on Nov. 3, 1939, edging out Huntingburg, 31-29.

It served as the home for Jasper basketball for almost the next four decades, up until the Wildcats defeated defeated Evansville Harrison, 44-41, Feb. 25, 1977. The venue was renamed Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium in November 1983 in honor of the winningest coach in Wildcats history and 1949 state championship coach.

The gym was saved from demolition in 2009, largely thanks to the efforts of Friends of Cabby O’Neill Gym. It underwent repairs and renovations later that year. Saving the gym turned out to be a wise decision, as the Wildcats played their home games there on a regular basis from 2011-2013 following the collapse of the roof of the old gym in 2011.

“We were really lucky that we had saved this place,” Wildcats coach John Goebel said.

He said getting to coach at Cabby did provide some inconvenience because of teaching at the high school all day and then packing everything to get to the gym. Jasper didn’t have a lot of storage space, and Goebel initially thought things were difficult from an organizational standpoint. However, he said it wasn’t hard getting used to practicing and playing at Cabby, as Jasper enjoyed every minute of it.

Jasper and Heritage Hills traditionally meet during the girls basketball sectional. Jasper thought this year would be its turn to be a the sectional host, so having the boys play Heritage Hills at Cabby was proposed. Hosting sectionals fell through, but the game will still be played at Cabby. The Wildcats are no strangers to the venue. The current group may not have any games under their belt there, but practice there multiple times a week during the season.

“It does not seem like it could be seven years since we’ve played here,” Goebel said. “It’s gone pretty quickly.”

Goebel wrote a letter dated Oct. 21 to the boosters and fans of Jasper basketball about the 106th season of the Wildcats this year. He mentioned this game being on the docket back then, and extended special gratuity to Greater Jasper School Board president Bernie Vogler for his role in the preservation of the venue.

“Bernie would be the first to point out that there are many other people involved with taking care of the Cabby Gym, but we all know that it is his leadership that keeps the building in such pristine condition,” he wrote.

The Wildcats held a grand reopening game Nov. 27, 2010, cruising to an 81-45 win against Pike Central. Goebel has some of his own favorite memories of coaching at Cabby. Jasper bested New Albany, 51-46, Jan. 26, 2013, at Cabby, a game that stands out to Goebel because of the scarcity of the Wildcats getting a win against the Bulldogs. He also fondly looks back on when Jasper took on county rival Northeast Dubois Jan. 27, 2012, and rattled off an 83-67 victory. The 13th-year coach of the Wildcats recalls “there wasn’t a seat left in the house” that game.

“It was a barnburner,” he said. “It had an old school, sectional feel to it and it’s very similar to our game we had just the other night at the high school with Northeast Dubois (a 54-50 win Jan. 31).”

Goebel’s first memories of the place predate his years as Jasper’s coach, or even when he went to high school at Evansville Mater Dei. He recalls coming to Cabby during the late 1970s as a wrestler during his time in the Mater Dei wrestling feeder system. Goebel said he must’ve been in fourth and fifth grade when he wrestled inside Cabby.

“Those are my earliest memories of it, but even then, you knew it was a special place,” Goebel said.

Cabby won’t just feature the Wildcats and Pats going at it on Saturday. Jasper will recognize its past when it honors the Wildcat teams that won five consecutive sectional championships from 1971-1975. Goebel felt it’d be more appropriate to keep the venue as a means to honor them in the gym they played in, as that process had already begun, anyway. Another golden era of Jasper basketball took place from 1941-1951. Cabby hosted the sectional tournament every year during that time span, with the host Wildcats going on a string of eight consecutive sectional championships, beginning from 1941-42 through the state championship season of 1948-49.

“It puts some meaning into the words that we have on our chest and we just want to go and show our people in our community that we’re going to wear our name well,” senior Jackson Kabrick said.

It’s the history and pride that Cabby has provided that Goebel has missed the most about coaching about there. Playing at Cabby won’t be a common occurrence again after Saturday partly due to the logistics of limited parking, seating, concessions and restrooms, but that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen again.

“It’s difficult to hold a game here,” Goebel said. “It takes a lot of extra work and a lot of extra time, but it’s something we want to do every few years, but I don’t see it happening every year.”

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