Visit to historic gym provides step back in time

Published 4:45 pm Thursday, July 5, 2018

KNIGHTSTOWN, Indiana (KT) — It was fitting to hear basketballs bouncing as I walked into historic Hoosier Gym in a town that resembled Mayberry. Once inside the front doors, I was a teenager again and couldn’t wait to dribble one myself.

Once back to reality, it’s easy to understand why it’s not uncommon for high school teams across the nation to make a pilgrimage to a small town that offers a step back in time. Knightstown is still reaping the success of the 1985-86 hit movie “Hoosiers,” a film that brought Indiana high school basketball to center stage. To this day, thousands of visitors flock the town with a population of 2,200 to get a glimpse a gym that was built in 1921, renovated in 1936 and then showcased to the world more than three decades ago.

The building has memorabilia remaining on the wall from the movie, including the famous “Go Hickory! All the Way painted in yellow and maroon on the wall behind the backboard facing the main entrance. the bleachers and other surroundings have been virtually untouched since movie directors left town. The side goals feature an all wooden backboard.

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The locker room, which is referred to as the shower room and located in the baseman of the facility, looks the same as it did when actor Gene Hackman was drawing up the “picket fence play” for his fictional “Hickory Huskers” team that defeated the South Bend Central Bears. The Hickory squad depicts the 1954 Milan High School basketball team that went undefeated and won the Indiana state championship.

The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, located in nearby New Castle, has an exhibit filled with memorabilia exclusively devoted to the Milan squad and its accomplishments during that miraculous season.

The original bathrooms are still located in front of the main entrance and the layout and look of the building is truly a step back in time. The volunteers who give tours for the non-profit, are knowledgeable and very helpful and tell stories about the gym and its place in history. The old classrooms offer a glimpse of past Knightstown teams and their accomplishments. Space is devoted to Bobby Knight, but to anyone’s knowledge, he’s never visited Knightstown, which isn’t named for the former Indiana men’s basketball coach.

The building is now a museum, community center for events, such as weddings, hosts a group of walkers and teams from across the nation set practice times and high school games are played every Friday and Saturday night. Teams have been known to travel from as far as Mississippi and New York to compete in the famed gymnasium.

When games aren’t being played, you can rent the gym for $30 per hour with a two-hour limit. The Hoosiers Reunion All-Star Classic, featuring the state’s top senior high school talent, is divided into two teams — Hickory and Terhune — is played in the facility every year. The contest has featured several NBA and WNBA stars who have played in the prestigious contest.

Hoosier Gym closed its doors after the last high school game was played in 1966, but 20 years later, the facility re-opened and has been a basketball Mecca palace ever since. Teams, fans, and tourists stop to get a peak of the facility. Many, like me, pick up a basketball dribble and shoot. I dribbled and shot and then dribble and shot some more. After all, how often does a sports writer from Kentucky get a chance to make baskets inside the venue that filmed the greatest sports movie of all-time? I made one of two free throws and have it on video to prove it, although I did get caught watching the paint dry, simply because I was in awe of the facility.

The most popular items are the T-shirts, which can be wiped clear off the shelves by any given team visiting the facility during basketball season. Luckily they were in stock during my visit. I didn’t just buy one T-shirt but left town with two following a decision-making tug-o-war in my mind trying to determine which one I wanted to purchase.

A bucket list item is now scratched off the list. A step back in time was well worth the drive.

Directions: 355 North Washington Street, three miles from Interstate 70 and the Indiana 109 exit.