Hoosier Hardwood

Children participate in a free-throw competition at Cabby O'Neill Gym in Jasper on Feb. 3. Daniel Vasta/The Herald

 

 

 

Story by Hendrix Magley 

Across the state, there are monuments dedicated to a certain pastime that is celebrated in Indiana with great revelry and fanfare — basketball. While these “monuments” are more commonly referred to as gymnasiums, there’s no denying these structures are a very important part of the Hoosier State’s culture and history. As it turns out, several of these gymnasiums are right here in Dubois County.

 

Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium

In basketball, it’s important to always have the support of the home crowd, which is one of the reasons why Cabby O’Neill Gymnasium in Jasper was one of the places road teams hated going to the most.

“I can remember just how much of a home court advantage it was,” said Greg Eckerle, who played for the Wildcats at Cabby. “Back in the day, it had a drop ceiling and it was just really, really loud. Opposing teams really didn’t like to go there.”

Bryce Troesch, 14, of Ferdinand, sits in a chair at Cabby O'Neill Gym in Jasper on Feb. 3. Daniel Vasta/The Herald

The gym, located at 340 W. Sixth St., was the home of the Jasper High School basketball teams from 1939 until 1977, when a new gym was constructed at the current Jasper High School. It was named after legendary Wildcat head coach Cabby O’Neill, who helped lead Jasper to the 1949 state championship victory.

Bleachers at Cabby O'Neill Gym in Jasper on Feb. 3. Daniel Vasta/The Herald

 

While the building was nearly demolished in 2009, a group lobbied to make sure the gym was saved, and the Greater Jasper School Board ended up voting 3-1 in favor of keeping it intact. In fact, the building was actually used for varsity basketball shortly after that due to the roof caving in at the high school gym in May 2011.

The varsity boys and girls basketball teams still often practice at Cabby, and wrestling meets are held there every once in awhile, but the facility is most commonly used for youth sports

and other activities.

Many memorable moments have taken place in Cabby, such as the sectional battles that were a precursor to Jasper’s state title in 1949, and big games from legends like Jasper’s Paul Hoffman, and Springs Valley and NBA alum Larry Bird.

Eckerle, who now volunteers at the Dubois County Museum and is responsible for creating the sports exhibits at the facility, recalls that maybe one of the biggest games that ever took place in Cabby was a few years before the state championship run even happened.

“Back in 1945, Jasper and (Evansville) Bosse met up in Cabby, and they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at the time,” Eckerle said. “It was also the first time a radio station had broadcast the game, and there were loudspeakers set up all over downtown for people who weren’t able to get tickets for the game.”

The gym will forever be part of Jasper lore — whether in reference to the city itself or high school athletics.

 

The Southridge and Loogootee cheerleaders observe the national anthem before the boys basketball game at Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 16. Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald

Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium

One of the colossal monuments to basketball in southern Indiana lies in the heart of downtown Huntingburg in the form of the Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium.

Opened in 1951, Memorial Gym has been the home of Southridge boys and girls basketball, as well as the site of many sectional, regional and semistate postseason basketball tournaments and wrestling sectional meets.

While postseason tournaments still take place at the gym today, nothing will ever quite compare to the boys basketball sectional hosted in Huntingburg every year from 1952 until the era of single-class basketball ended in 1998. Jasper, Southridge, Forest Park and Northeast Dubois all gathered in Memorial Gym to battle for Dubois County superiority (along with Perry Central and Pike Central, throughout the years).

A T-shirt commemorating the Southridge Sectional featuring Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium on display at the Dubois County Museum in Jasper on Feb. 13. Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald

A photographed of the Evansville Central versus Huntingburg High School basketball game on Jan. 30, 1953 that notes 7,000 people in attendance on display at Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium in Feb. 2019

Southridge Athletic Director Brett Bardwell has referred to the tournament in the past as a “huge social and cultural event for the county.” The facility was a packed house for all three nights of the sectional tournament as fans would seek out tickets just to watch great basketball in a historic venue.

Many legendary games have taken place in the friendly confines of Memorial Gym — from Jasper’s Scott Rolen scoring 47 points and nearly bringing the Wildcats back from a huge deficit to defeat Forest Park in the 1993 sectional opener to more recent performances, such as Southridge’s Colson Montgomery breaking the Raiders single-game scoring record as a freshman in 2018.

Memorial Gym is the 14th largest gym in the state, with a seating capacity of 6,092, and there aren’t many more impressive sights than a crowd full of spectators in the historic venue. While it might not always sell out the same way it did

during the sectional tournaments in the single-class era, there have still been plenty of impressive crowds at Memorial Gym — even this season (take a look at the packed crowd from the January boys basketball battle between Heritage Hills and Southridge).

While the gym has also been used for youth sports and other activities, it’s hard not to look at Memorial Gym and think anything but basketball.

 

Matt Beckman of Celestine, right, plays with his daughter, Clara, 6, left, and sons, Calvin, 2, and Conrad, 3, while taking a break from a game of pick-up basketball at Dubois Middle School on Jan. 16. A group of about 20 guys get together for two hours and play in the school’s gymnasium on Wednesday evenings. Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald

Jeeps Gym

The small community of Dubois has always been crazy about its Jeeps. But maybe even more so, the Northeast Dubois faithful have always been ecstatic about Jeep basketball.

The Dubois High School Gymnasium in 1949.
Eugene the Jeep, decorates the floor of Dubois Middle School gymnasium. High school home basketball games were played at the middle school until 1975. Brittney Lohmiller/The Herald

While Northeast Dubois has been playing in the current high school gym since 1976, many residents of Dubois can vividly recall when the Jeeps played in the old gym — now, the current venue for the grade-level basketball and volleyball programs as well as pick-up rec league basketball games at Dubois Middle School.

One person who can remember the playing days of the old Dubois gym very well is current Northeast Dubois athletic director and boys basketball head coach Terry Friedman. In fact, Friedman played in the last varsity boys basketball contest held in that gym on Dec. 13, 1975 — a 59-35 victory over Eastern (Pekin).

While the Jeeps did host a throwback night on Jan. 23, 2017 — when the Northeast Dubois girls basketball team faced Shoals in the middle school gym wearing retro jerseys — the gym is now mostly used for middle school sports.

The gym was built in 1949, and the first game was played against Chrisney on Nov. 8 that year. The Jeeps lost that game 38-36 in double overtime. The first victory came on Nov. 30, when the Jeeps squeaked out a 42-41 victory over Ireland.

The gym replaced another that was located on the third floor of the old Dubois High School. This building was located at the current location of the Northeast Dubois County School Corporation’s superintendent’s office on Main Street, right next to Butchie’s.

The old middle school gym seats about 750 people (compared to the current venue’s 2,500 seating capacity), but Friedman can recall that fans used to pack the house to see the Jeeps play.

The first game in the current high school gym took place on Jan. 16, 1976, and was a sellout, as fans flocked to see the new facility — and a Jeeps win — as Northeast Dubois defeated Vincennes Rivet 59-53.

 




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