Gym collapse remembered 10 years laterApril 30, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
Jasper diving coach Kristy Vaughn couldn't believe it last weekend when she realized it'd been nearly 10 years since Jasper High School's gym roof collapsed.
Vaughn was Jasper's swimming coach at the time, and May 2, 2011, was to be a day of Masters swim practice. What seemingly started as an ordinary early morning turned into something forever a part of the history of JHS.
"I was going to swim that morning myself," Vaughn said. "It was Masters morning practice, not high school, and I was getting ready to change when the fire alarm went off. And initially, I thought maybe it was a drill or something."
She realized it couldn't have been a drill that early in the morning.
"I walked out of the pool area up towards one of the athletic offices, and didn't notice anything," she said. "I thought, 'This is just really weird,' and almost just scuffed it off as nothing, and started to turn back. I was like, 'No, that just seems so weird.'"
Vaughn went through the double doors by the athletic office, and smelled what seemed like a chemical burn. She knew something wasn't right. It had rained and she soon saw the collapse.
The roof, as she put it, was on the floor.
"You're in disbelief," Vaughn said. "You're just trying to wrap around what happened. It was raining, but I don't really think there was a tornado or anything. I knew it was a bad storm, but it wasn't one that I was just paranoid of when I went in that morning."
Vaughn spent much of her time talking to Mike Hile, the assistant superintendent at that time, and also notified then-athletic director Denny Lewis.
Word soon spread to other coaches.
"I remember when the gym collapsed, the look on Denny Lewis' face the first time I saw him, he just could not believe that this had happened," said Jasper tennis coach Scott Yarbrough, a 1989 JHS graduate who scored more than 900 points for JHS basketball and was later an assistant coach for the Wildcats.
Lewis dialed 911 and made the rounds of calling then-principal Bob Hacker and then-superintendent Jerrill Vandeventer.
Jasper boys basketball coach John Goebel took The Herald back to what he recalled from that morning.
“I think I remember waking up that morning, and I heard on the radio that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I think it was morning,” Goebel said. “And it was shortly after that that I got a phone call.
“I think Denny Lewis called me, and said, ‘There’s a hole in the gym roof,’ and so I drove in here thinking there’s a leak — something like that,” he continued. “And I got here, the gym had collapsed, it was down. I actually was one of the guys, we walked in and looked at it, which was very silly and dangerous looking back, but we didn’t know how bad it was yet. So, we took a look at it, and it was an ordeal, that’s for sure. It looked like a bomb had hit it.”
No one was hurt from the roof collapsing, but Jasper did have prom inside the gym just days before, with members of the community thankful nobody was inside when it all went down.
It was the unceremonious end of an era for Jasper basketball. For some, it was the only gym they knew from the time they grew up to the time they graduated from high school.
“It really goes back to being a kid,” said Casey Nelson, a 2011 JHS graduate. “That was the gym that I watched so many Jasper basketball games, and my mom (Belinda) was the cheer coach for all my years growing up. So, all those games sitting on the end of the bench when Coach (Tim) LaGrange was there. I remember sitting with (LaGrange’s stepson) Drake (Coleman) at all of the home games, and just to watch those games, see those players and know that one day that was going to be me.
“So, when you get to high school and that’s your gym — all the hours spent in that gym — practices, summer shootarounds, AAU Tournaments, that gym was a second home to me,” Nelson continued. “That locker room, the coaches’ office, everything about that place was home.”
Ryan Erny made years of memories in that gym as a player — graduating in 1996, and later as the coach of the Jasper girls basketball team from the 2008-09 season through the 2016-17 campaign. The Nov. 24, 2009, win against Evansville Memorial saw the Wildcats shock the Class 3A No. 4 Tigers, 58-53.
"They had us down, 16-0, and we came back and beat that team in the regular season," Erny said. "In the regional final, we played them. I'll never forget Coach (Phil) Kendall turning to me and say, 'Hey, it's 2-1. At least we're not down, 16-0.'"
If he had to pick a memory from his playing days that stood out, he would go with the Feb. 17, 1996, game against Vincennes Lincoln. Erny's defense limited Jono Connor of the Alices to a single field goal in the second half after Connor went for 20 in the first half. The Wildcats came away with a 63-58 win, and their first Big Eight Conference title since 1993.
"That's probably one of the last few times that gym was really, really full, outside of maybe a D1 player coming into town," he said. "But to me, that gym was packed to the ceiling that night against Vincennes Lincoln."
The girls didn't know it at the time, but their last game ever in the gym came on Jan. 29 with a 62-41 win against Castle.
"It's one of the things you kind of tell the kids, 'Hey, you got to appreciate every moment,'" Erny said. "You never know when it's your last game, or the last time you're going to be in that setting or that building, and just to always cherish every moment you're out there on the basketball floor. That was one of those things it looked like, 'Goodness. You can't hardly believe that that happened.'"
The final boys game in Jasper’s old gym came on Feb. 22, 2011, against Loogootee, in which the Wildcats lost to the Lions, 64-63. Jasper had the chance to knock off the No. 7 team in Class 1A, but a pair of threes from Bryant Ackerman in the final 15 seconds of the game prevented that from happening.
The gym was sentimental to Goebel because it was the Wildcats' gym when he first joined the team in the 2007-08 season.
“There was a lot of history in that gym,” he said. “There were a lot of great players that played in there from Michael Lewis to Scott Rolen and Faruk Mujezinovic. And there were some Indiana All-Stars that played in there, obviously, and some of the great teams from the ‘80s. So, it was just tragic to see the history of it go.”
Part of that history included Yarbrough going for 43 points on Feb. 7, 1989, as the Wildcats upset No. 10 Princeton, 86-69, and he also made the first 3-pointer in the history of the gym when he was a junior.
"I banked it in from the top of the key," he said. "It was one of those where I couldn't get it out of my hands fast enough. It was against Washington Catholic."
For boys junior varsity coach Caleb Begle, the atmosphere of the old gym stood out to him. He, too, remembers those close games junior year against those good teams that they just couldn’t get by. One of those games was against Class 3A No. 3 Princeton — who was just two years removed from an undefeated state championship season. Begle dropped 27 points, which was a career-high for him at the time on Feb. 15, 2011, but the Wildcats fell, 94-86 in OT.
“That’s kind of where high school basketball for me started,” he said. “I remember as a kid the team always ran out of the tunnel in the back, and you kind of had that walk into the gym, where you kind of felt the energy and the excitement back in the locker room, and then you kind of walked down the hallway, and walked down on the floor.
“That's probably was the biggest thing was just you walked down the hallway, and you could kind of feel it,” Begle continued. “And then once you kind of got down the hallway and you could see the crowd and you could hear the band — it was a good walk. It was a lot of fun.”
Greg Eckerle graduated from Jasper in 1970 and contributes historical sports pieces to the Herald. It wasn’t the gym when Greg was in high school, but he, too, has fond recollections.
“The place was always packed when we had the good teams — even when we didn’t have very good teams, it was still packed,” Greg said. “But it was just the excitement when the team was running out on the floor. I guess that was the big thing. The band was playing, there was so much noise. There used to be a dropped ceiling in there. It really held the noise in.
“It was a tough place for opponents to play,” he added. “You really expected you were going to win, even if you were an underdog.”
Those memories became just that — memories, no longer something people could see before their own eyes. The building itself was now a thing of the past, which meant Jasper basketball and volleyball had to find a new place to call home and practice in for the time being.
“Every other day, and deservedly so, the girls varsity practices in the main gym,” Goebel said. “And we would end upstairs in the Auxiliary Gym that has three floors, but it’s not real conducive for a focused and private practice. There’s just too much activity and too much noise up there.”
Fortunately for the community, the Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium was a place where the Wildcats could play for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, but different questions arose about where else to turn. Students returned to school on May 4, but with the seniors set to graduate on May 27, they had to find somewhere else for the commencement, since the gym would not be available.
The Herald reported on May 10, 2011, that the Greater Jasper School Board held a special meeting on May 9 about a measure to move the graduation to Huntingburg Memorial Gym, home of county rival Southridge. However, the seniors had their say in the matter beforehand.
They could've held their graduation at Jasper Middle School, at Cabby or at the Jasper Arts Center auditorium, but The Herald reported that 4,600 people attended the 2010 graduation ceremony. Therefore, they needed a place to accommodate the attendees.
A class meeting was held by the seniors to decide to hold graduation there, and 172 out of 236 seniors voted in favor of graduation at the rival gym.
"I voted for it," Nelson said. "I think a couple different reasons came to mind, which might be different from those of my classmates, but one, I just thought it was extremely selfless and hospitable for, from an athletic standpoint, our county rival to offer that to us. But I also just thought it was an awesome sign of respect in the community for them to come forward with that and be able to host us."
The Southwest Dubois School Board met on May 16 to allow for Jasper's graduation ceremony to be held at Huntingburg Memorial Gym. Then-superintendent Terry Enlow initially proposed the idea.
"The superintendent at the time, Jerrill Vandeventer, and I were very good friends," Enlow said. "It probably just came up in a discussion. I can't remember specifically, but it just probably just came up in a discussion, and he was saying, 'We don't know what we're going to do about graduation.' And probably in jest because knowing the rivalry between the two over the years, I probably just said, 'Well, why don't you just bring the Wildcats over to Memorial Gym, where the Raiders graduate?' Probably just something off the cuff like that.
"And of course, that started a more serious discussion about the fact that they didn't have a place, they couldn't count on going outside," he continued. "So, they needed something more secure, and we were glad to do it."
Jasper made sure to make Huntingburg Memorial Gym its own.
"It was interesting," Vaughn said. "Obviously, with the rivalry and so forth, it was kind of an unusual circumstance for us to be going over there. But at the same token, really gracious of Southridge.
"I remember being really thankful that they were allowing us to use their venue, but I mean, it was a complete overhaul," she continued. "We went in, and the first year anyway, they covered up all the championship pictures of Southridge — and tried to bring as much black and gold as we could to make it feel like it was ours, and not in a borrowed gym."
Jasper asked for and received permission on the coverings.
"It was a great team effort to pull that off," Hacker said. "I can tell you there were 33 steps from the top of Memorial Gym to the gym floor, because we carried all of our chairs and all of our band equipment. Anything that we could bring to make it feel like Jasper, we brought. We had to cover over their athletic stuff at the top of the gym, and cover those with black plastic."
Enlow said others in the community were willing to help out, and there weren't any serious complaints.
He took a lot of pride in helping out, saying that people in public education are in it together.
"It was something we were glad to do, and looking back on it today, I'd certainly do it again," he said. "I know the people of Southwest Dubois would do it again, too. It went off pretty seamlessly, all things considered."
The success continued for Jasper's boys and girls on the basketball court, as the Wildcats made it to the sectional championship games the two years they called Cabby their temporary home, while the girls won their third and fourth consecutive sectional crowns in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
"A lot of credit goes to the kids, obviously," Erny said. "We had some really good basketball players in the likes of Megan Sternberg and Shelby Merder. Those two jump to mind real quick."
Those 2012 seniors also graduated at Huntingburg Memorial Gym, and the 2013 class could have held their commencement there, too, except for one little thing.
A new gym was being pieced together, the gym that many Jasper athletes of today now spend their labor and achieve glory. German American Insurance financed the funding of this new facility with an estimated cost of $9-10 million. Construction was to begin in January 2012 with a completion by March 2013. However, wage disputes pushed that back, as construction began that May and finished in May 2013 in time for graduation.
Scott Stenftenagel is the Clerk of the Works for the Stenftenagel Group and led the construction project on the new gym. He knew of the relief and the accomplishment of finishing on time for graduation, and also having the pressure from daughter Megan to finish it.
"I remember during construction every morning, my daughter, before she'd head out to school or I'd head out to work, she said, 'Time's ticking, time's ticking dad, tick tock, tick tock,' meaning it better be done for graduation," Scott said. "So, that was always an inside joke with her and I, but it was great. It was an awesome feeling to be able to have that project completed, and for the school corporation and those kids to have the graduation back at their high school."
The Jasper Class of 2013 got to experience the new gym on May 23 to practice their graduation. The 2013 graduation was the first event to be held in the new gym, and the first time the venue was open to the public.
"It wasn't completely done in '13, but it was close enough for the kids to get to graduate back in Jasper, and that was...due to a lot of hard work by a lot of people," Hacker said. "The kids were able to graduate there in '13, then the summer of '13, they finished up with the gym."
Athletic play in the new gym began during the 2013-14 year, with the volleyball team being the first to use it. Student-athletes got to enjoy bigger locker rooms with more elbow room and a cubby for all the players, and fans got to see Jasper volleyball take down Heritage Hills for the first sporting event in the new gym that seats 4,800 people. That's less than the 5,200 the old gym held, but people cherish the newer state-of-the-art facility.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything," Goebel said. "Everywhere I go, people tell me how much they love this gym, and how lucky we are to have it. And I believe it."
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