Greenfield Basketball History - November 2012

Greenfield’s Basketball Temples

November in Indiana brings a lot of things to its residents. A fall harvest, change in weather, elections and most importantly…….basketball.

As someone who loves history and also like many other people from Indiana, I love basketball. For the past decade or more I’ve put those two interests together and have gone on an exciting journey of researching that history and how it pertains to Hancock County. I’ve become a member of the Indiana High School Basketball Historical Society and that has introduced me to many of contacts and resources.

Many years ago I asked myself a few questions that has led me down this endless path of research. I wondered how the sport of basketball got to Hancock County. Why is basketball so important to Indiana? What schools have won titles? A few questions became many. I’ve enjoyed learning about each of the school’s history.

In this months’ article we’ll explore one of my favorite areas…the buildings in which basketball has been played in. “Hoosier Temples” are what these structures on better known by in Indiana. I’ve been surprised by what I’ve found.

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In order to explore these structures we have to trace how the sport arrived in our area. We all know that basketball was created by Dr. James Naismith is Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891. Dr. Naismith needed a game that could be played indoors during the winter months and involved skill more than brute strength. The sport of basketball was invented.

We know that a year later Rev. Nicholas McKay graduated from Dr. Naismith’s class and returned home to Crawfordsville, Indiana to work at the local YMCA. Rev. McKay brought the sport of basketball with him because he thought it would be a great winter exercise for the farm boys of Indiana. But who is responsible for introducing this new sport to the boys of Hancock County? I’ve spent countless hours combing through the microfilm newspapers for this very answer and have not found one particular person that we can give credit to. So how did the sport get hear? I think we are safe to assume that it migrated hear just like it quickly migrated through the entire state.

The first game of basketball played outside of Dr. Naismith class took place in Crawfordsville, Indiana just a few years after the games invention. From that point it was a ripple effect that migrated outward from that point. If you look at a state map the first eight state champions are from a three-county, 30-mile radius of that point. Crawfordsville, 1911; Lebanon, 1912, 1917, 1918; Wingate 1913, 1914; Thorntown 1915; and Lafayette Jefferson, 1916.

At first the sport was not played in the high school ranks. It took some time before high schools began to organize their teams. Most high schools at the time didn’t have physical education classes yet. Many independent teams we formed first.

Why did Indiana fall in love with basketball? That’s a fundamental question that everyone needs to understand the answer. Best put, it’s who we are. Just look at our geographical location. Look at how our state was made up.

Indiana is dotted with small towns. Its largest city, Indianapolis was nicknamed “Nap Town” for a reason. Farming or factory work was a major employer. During the winter months farmers had more time on their hands and crops were good so they had some extra money as well. That basic foundation for some entertainment made an easy connection. Another part of the mix was all of the small communities that covered Indiana. The schools were such a focal point of those communities. Residents had such great pride their schools. The local school houses were used for many events other than just going to school. All of this made basketball a natural fit for a state like Indiana.

So since we are left to assume that the sport traveled to Hancock County through the natural spread by its residents. When studying the newspapers, yearbooks and other school histories the earliest documentation that I have found for an organized team within the high schools was at Mt. Comfort for the 1907-08 season. New Palestine was next to form a team in 1910-11. You would assume then that the sport was being played earlier than this time frame. But this does give us a somewhat official time frame.

At this time there were ten active high schools in the county. They all began to form teams in the years that followed. By 1916 all of the ten county schools had teams.

The first two places in Greenfield that documents where basketball was played were the Greenfield Armory and the old Tennis Grounds. The Armory building is not the same structure that we know of today in Riley Park and no exact information was given in the article as to where the building stood but it did mention later that it later housed the Hancock Democrat party headquarters. There was also no specific location given for the tennis grounds, but a November 21, 1913 Daily Reporter article stated that a basketball tournament was taking place there. This is also the first article discussing a basketball tournament. A second Reporter article dated February 27, 1938, which was discussing places where the game was first played again stated that they used the tennis courts until the cold weather drove the boys indoors.

Members of this tournament were:

  • Team Red: S. Cooper-Capt., D. McGray, Paul Rhoadarner, F. Stuart, G. Zike, J. Oxer, F. Gorman.
  • Team Blue: Donald Hilt-Capt., J. Walker, L. Toms, B. Sparks, Floyd Manon, G. White, H. Scott.
  • Team Green: H. Korn-Capt., Fletcher, R. Jefferies, C. Eaton, B. Moon, H. Elliott, J. Julian.
  • Team Brown: Bruner-Capt., N. Blue, L. New, H. Amick, R. Winslow, C. Clawson, R. Murphy.

 

Greenfield High School formed its first team in 1914-15. Mr. Baker coached the first two games of the season and then Mr. Wilder coached the last six games. The Tigers went 2-6 that season. In the beginning games were few if at all. Some teams might have only played one or two games. Members of that first team were Floyd Mannon, Hugh Walsh, Paul Rhoadarner, Earl Hilligoss-Capt., Donald Hilt, Dale Morton, Oscar Willman, Robert Moore. Their first game was against Westland with Westland taking the game 4-12.

Like everywhere across the U.S., Hancock County and Greenfield did not have any gymnasiums when the sport was first invented. So the game had to be played in whatever available space your town provided. In Hancock County trying to find a building large enough that wasn’t completely occupied was even harder.

One popular place that Hoosiers found that could be used to play in was their barns. Being a farming community everybody had barns on their property. The hay mound was a perfect place to play. They usually had high ceilings and an open floor for stacking the bales of hay.

The Hinchman Wagon Works which was located at 202 E. Main St. was also an original hangout for local cagers. The second floor was large and had a high ceiling, even though you had to dodge a few wooden columns. This building is still standing and today is home to the Hancock County Soup Kitchen. Some of Greenfield High Schools first home games were played in this building.

A Greenfield Camaraderie Yearbook stated that the high school procured its first court over the Van Dyke Sales Room. It was a small room about twenty-eight by forty feet. No spectators could be accommodated

C. Bert Orr’s Grocery Store was also located downtown Greenfield. The second floor of this building was documented in yearbook articles as being used on occasion for playing basketball. An ad in the Reporter in 1927 gave an address of 204 E. Main St. After researching the address a 204 E. Main St. does not currently exist, but a 202 E. Main St. does which leads us back to the Hinchman building. It is possible since this property has two storefront entrances that C. Bert Orr occupied this building also.

In the Wednesday, December 2, 1914 edition of the Hancock Democrat Newspaper, there was an article that ran that the Tabernacle Building was purchased by the high school and was to be used for indoor athletics. The building was purchased from the Greenfield Church’s Association for the price of $6,000. It originally had a seating capacity of 700 spectators, but each year a little was added until it reached its maximum seating of 1,000 people. The Tabernacle building stood on the lot where the Memorial Building currently stands. Other newspaper reports state that the building was poorly lighted and was almost unheated. It was also very dusty and when the games got going you could hardly see what was going on with all the dust stirred up in the poorly lit building.

In that same year Greenfield High School played Westland High School in the building. A Reporter articled described the uniforms that were used in this game. Most of the outfits were track or baseball britches, and old turtle-neck sweaters cut down for the occasion. Of the seven or eight on the squad only two had shirts alike. Westland won the game.

In an article by the Hancock Democrat dated Wednesday, February 10, 1915, they reported that the Independent team of Greenfield would play the Independent team of New Palestine on the Tabernacle court.

An article ran on Thursday, November 30, 1916, in the Greenfield Republican headlined:

START A GYMNASIUM FOR BOYS OF CHURCH

 


 

Held First Meeting in Bradley Church Basement Friday Night

To Organize.

 

Work has been started at the Bradley M.E. Church that it is hoped and expected will result in a great benefit and pleasure to the boys of the church.

The basement of the church, which is large and commodious, is being fitted up and utilized as a gymnasium and three classes numbering about thirty boys.

The trustees of the church granted the use of the basement with heat and light and there are numerous gymnasium appliances and basketball equipment and any other necessary equipment will be supplied.

The boys held their first meeting Friday night with their teachers and Mr. Grant, the superintendent in charge of them. The boys will meet every Friday evening from 7:00 to 8:30 o’clock and it is probable that the first of the junior department will meet one evening each week in charge of their superintendent and teachers.

 


 

 

Other articles list the use of the 2nd floor of the Ford Dealership building located at 10 Main Street in Greenfield as place for practice and games during the 1919-20 season.

The first county school to build a gymnasium attached to their school was Maxwell High School in 1919. It was a small gymnasium and it had no bleachers and no games were held there.

When the Memorial Building was constructed in 1923 in Greenfield they built a gymnasium. This gymnasium is still being used today. It was home to several high school teams over the years. Maxwell High School used it the most as their home court.

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Memorial Building Court

Through the 1920’s schools still did not have official gymnasiums. Articles would state that there would be a game at the “gym” but it would turn out to be an outdoor court and a make shift room on the 2nd floor of a local building.

One Daily Reporter article described a game where it was so cold that they players had to wear their winter overcoats during warm-ups. Maybe this is one of the reasons schools adopted warm-up jackets for their uniforms?

As reported in the 1920 Hancock Democrat and the Hancock County Kaleidoscope book, a gymnasium for Greenfield Schools was definitely planned at meetings. Mr. Cory, principal, made known the fact that he was negotiating for a building from Ft. Benjamin Harrison. A mass meeting of citizens was called for on October 1, 1920 and committees were appointed to take care of finance, location, building and publicity.

On January 18, 1921 the City of Greenfield dedicated its new gymnasium. The gymnasium would become known in the paper as the State Street Gymnasium.

In the 1921 Greenfield High School Camaraderie Yearbook and the local newspaper carried articles describing the event. An article in the Athletic section titled “The Gymnasium”. The first sentence in that article states that the greatest achievement of the year is the building of the gymnasium. It goes on to talk about how for the past several years they were in need of adequate equipment for physical training.

A campaign was started by some of the town’s prominent citizens to raise the funds for a gymnasium.  Mr. Larrabee was the chairman of this committee, and the other members were: Harry Strickland, William Hough, Marshall Winslow, William Leamon, Charles Williams, John Rash, C.M. Kirkpatrick and Robert Oldham. The committee donated their own money to the cause as well as soliciting the townspeople. A frame was purchased from Fort Benjamin Harrison and moved to the site and finished.

By the cooperation of the citizens, some of whom gave their physical work in the construction, the gymnasium was soon started. Even though it was not 100% complete it was open to the public on January 18. Three games were played that day with the Greenfield girl’s team playing the Maxwell girl’s team. The second game was Greenfield vs. Whitestown and the third game was Westland vs. Charlottesville. Music and callisthenic drills under the direction of Miss Ruth Todd were also on the program. Between five to six hundred people attended the opening, showing that the people are interested in and proud of the new building. After a few weeks the committee turned the gym over to the school board.

The high school students showed their appreciation by conducting their own class fundraisers. The First donation was from the class of 1920. The class donated one hundred dollars towards the project. The classes of 1921 and 1922 each gave one hundred dollars. They raised the money by conducting a carnival. The sophomore class held a “Tag Day”. They raised one hundred and ten dollars for their efforts. The freshman class sold candy, which raised another thirty-five dollars.

This gym was located on the lot where the current Highsmith Guns stands at 123 N. State Street. The 1927 Sanborn maps so the building sitting on the north side of the lot and it was back several feet off of State Road 9 due to the fact that Potts Ditch ran directly in front of the building and at this time the ditch was still open. A wooden walk-bridge was constructed over the ditch.

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Greenfield High School 1921 State St. Gym.

This gymnasium was the pride of the community and it was the first gym in the county of its kind. This gym was used until a new gymnasium was built at the new Greenfield High School property in 1927.

On February 24, 1927 an ad was published in the Daily Reporter giving notice to the public for the sale of the old gymnasium and property. This notice was very useful because it gave lot dimensions of 82’ x 157.5’.

A March 14, 1927 a Daily Reporter article stated that Harry Koin bought the building and property. In the spring Mr. Koin dismantled the building putting an end to the State Street gymnasium.

By the late 1920’s most county high schools had their own gymnasiums; some were still not used to host games but were used only for practice.

In the late 1920’s Greenfield High School had become too small and outdated. A new school building was constructed on an open lot on North Street which ran from Broadway to School St. A new gymnasium was also constructed. This new temple was separate from the school building. Greenfield being the largest city in the county always was home to the largest gymnasiums and that continued with the construction of the new gymnasium in 1926. This gym had seating on the west and east side and had a capacity of 2,500. This gym hosted the county tourney and sectional tourney until it closed in 1969. After that the school became an elementary school and the gym was home to many kids for physical education classes, games and many other activities. Today the school is an assisted living facility and the gymnasium was converted into a parking garage although the outside of the building was preserved.

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Greenfield High School 1926 School St. Gym

The gymnasium boom lasted in Indiana through the 1950’s. Most of those gyms are still in use today.  Mike Edwards, who now lives in Tennessee said in his book that every time he comes back to Greenfield he always takes a drive past the old gym.

In 1969 Greenfield High School faced what all schools in the state were facing…..consolidation. Greenfield was one of the last schools to consolidate in the county. The consolidation was hard fought and beginning with the 1970 school year Greenfield High School consolidated with Hancock Central High School, which was a consolidation of Eden High School and Maxwell High Schools. A great story is told by one of Greenfield’s all-time great players Mike Edwards in his book The Last Tiger. He tells the story of the 1969 basketball team, which was one of the popular and successful teams in the state that year. The new Greenfield-Central gymnasium was completed. The seating capacity was almost twice the size of the current gym and with the success of the team many people wanted to watch the Tiger squad. But when it was mentioned to the players about playing in the new gym the team refused because it wasn’t their home court. So the final game was played at the Tiger gym which was the sectional championship game and the Tigers beat Hancock Central, their consolidating counterparts, 100 to 56. What a great way to close a gym by winning a sectional title and doing it with 100 points.

The new gym at Greenfield-Central was also state of the art for its time. It was big and spacious. It had wooden folding bleachers on the east and west sides, and it had upper mezzanines. The seating capacity is 4,620. It continued with the tradition of being the largest gymnasium in the county and making it home of the sectionals and other tournaments. The wooden bleachers were removed a few years ago to make way for new fiberglass molded bleachers that are blue and gold. The Cougar gym is still currently used.

There are many other gymnasiums currently in Greenfield. Weston, Harris, JB Stephens and St. Michael schools each have gymnasium. Several churches like Park Chapel, Brandywine Christian and Trinity Park United Methodist Church have also added gyms. Greenfield High School has also added the Fieldhouse which holds three full size courts.

The Hancock County Boys and Girls Club also have gymnasiums. The original 1954 gym was home to many youth growing up in the community. Since that time as the club has expanded so too has the club and they added a second gym in 1993.

 

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Boys & Girls Club 1954 Gymnasium

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The newly named Ron Horning Court at the Boys and Girls Club 1993 Gym

Indiana saw a major overtaking of gymnasiums popping up all across the state until the 1960’s. Indiana is home of the 15 of the top 16 nations largest high school gymnasium in the world. Some gymnasiums had a seating capacity that was larger than the town’s population. I would love to travel back through time and pay a visit to a ball game on a Friday night in one of these old gyms. Any time I travel through a town I am always on the lookout for an old gym.

Greenfield has had a lot of success in these old gyms. Greenfield High School has won 11 sectional titles, was Regional Runner-ups in 1926 and Semi-State Runner-Up in 1943. Greenfield-Central High School has won seven sectional titles. Consolidating schools of Eden has won titles in 1945 and 1946. Maxwell High School won title in 1941. And Hancock Central won titles in 1956 and was also Regional Runner-ups that same year.

Many communities have lost their old gyms unfortunately, but Indiana has also done a pretty good job at preserving these monuments to their communities. I think Greenfield has done a good job as well. I can’t wait to get back into these old gyms, I can smell the popcorn now.

By Greg Roland

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