Column: Embracing my first games at Memorial Gym

Photo by Jimmy Lafakis/The Herald
Southridge senior Kennedy Nalley (right) drives to the basket during Tuesday evening’s game against Evansville Mater Dei in Huntingburg. Southridge fell to Mater Dei, 29-25.

By JIMMY LAFAKIS
jlafakis@dcherald.com

Back to school

HUNTINGBURG — I make it a point to arrive early to sporting events. Punctuality is always a priority, but there’s nothing like watching games unfold from the beginning.

As I entered Memorial Gym at approximately 6:10 p.m. on Tuesday evening, Jack Harlow’s “What’s Poppin” boomed over the loudspeakers. That happens to be one of my favorite songs, so I cracked a quick smile.

I wasn’t there to listen to popular music, though. As the tune faded into the background, I began my personal quest. Before Southridge tipped off against Evansville Mater Dei, I became a history student.

My subjects of choice were the special moments spread throughout Memorial Gym’s hallowed walls. Oftentimes, I wonder what walls could say if they could talk.

While Mater Dei earned a tight 29-25 victory over Southridge, those walls spoke to me. I took several trips around the concourse, spotting something new each time. The experience was similar to reading a great book — if you re-read one of your favorite novels, there’s a good chance you can find something you missed within the pages.

Around the Perimeter

Two particular fragments of history caught my attention. The first fragment was the wall dedicated to the members of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. I learned about legendary Indiana hoops figures such as Joe Todrank, John Wellemeyer and Ruth Elliott.

Once I glanced at Wellemeyer’s storied history, my eyes remained fixated on his staggering statistics. He scored a school-record 1,623 points for Huntingburg High School. He also set Dubois County records for single-season points (526) and single-game scoring (52).

That’s a lot of buckets.

The second fragment was the sign indicating Memorial Gym’s 10 greatest games. The list is based on a fan poll taken in February 2002, which coincided with the gym’s 50th anniversary. When I took a glance at the top of the list, I was blown away.

March 2, 1993: Forest Park 85, Jasper 80. Jasper’s Scott Rolen scored 47 points, but Bob Boehman’s clutch free throws clinched the win for Forest Park.

Truly unreal. I wasn’t even alive yet.

Sinking my teeth into history, I learned about Odon, Ireland and Milltown. Milltown’s 72-69 victory over Jeffersonville in 1970 takes the No. 10 spot on the list.

The sign reads: “Tiny Milltown, with an enrollment of 97, stuns the much larger Red Devils with the help of Jerry Conrad’s 29 points.”

I visualized myself covering some of those games. What a treat that would have been. Those historic contests would have made for great stories to tell my children and grandchildren.

The gym is more than just a hoops haven. As I worked my way around the concourse for another lesson, I enjoyed looking at photographs of standout football players, cheerleaders, swimmers and more.

I felt like I was in “Inception.” Artifacts within a larger artifact, all gathered to display timeless memories. I am grateful for the opportunity to expand my knowledge.

As passionate fans urged players to shoot the ball and hustle, I made one final observation. Just below the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame members, another sign reads: “Memorial Gym will be open for walkers.” The sign also lists the designated hours for walking.

I will make some more trips around Memorial Gym. When I do, I will be sure to get there early.




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