Monday, May 9, 2016

Living la vida Wigwam

There were times, back in those gone days, when I really did feel like I was living in the Wigwam down at Anderson High School, one of the great high school basketball venues in America.

But, you know, I never actually lived there.

And so it was with a good deal of interest that I read the other day about the plans, apparently in motion for some time, to turn the 'Wam into "affordable housing units" while maintaining the gym, in which so much amazing Indiana high school basketball history played out. According to the Anderson Herald Bulletin (my ancestral newspapering home, sort of) initial work on the $42 million project is scheduled to begin this summer. The 9,000-seat facility closed its doors in 2011, the most conspicuous casualty of school system budget cuts.

Living in the Wigwam. Man, I can't even imagine.

I can't help thinking of all the psychic energy contained within its walls, all those Friday night echoes that will surely disturb the tenants' slumber in the skinny hours of the night. Will they look up some evening to see Johnny Wilson standing there? Will they bump into a spectral Roy Taylor walking the halls? Will Troy Lewis appear out of nowhere some night to jack up a silken jumper or three?

Hey, look! Isn't that Anderson coach Norm Held, flinging his towel skyward while the game official tells him "Norm, if that comes down, I'm teeing you up"?  And what's that odd slapping noise? Oh, it's just Madison Heights coach Phil Buck stomping his foot in frustration. And could that be Gary Delph of Highland, once again shooting that legendary jumper over two Anderson defenders as the clock goes to zeroes?

Look over there at the end of the floor, where the team benches used to sit. Who's that?

Why, it's Dally Hunter from Lapel. It's Calvin Bayley from Frankton. It's Garth Cone, the Wizard of Alexandria.

All of them had a part in the glory days of high school hoops in Madison County, which happily  corresponded with my time there. It was the 1980s, and the names were Held and Buck and Hunter,  Cone and Bob Fuller at Highland and Marty Johnson at Pendleton Heights. Ray Tolbert, still the best high school big man I ever saw, played sectional games there. So did Rick Lantz from Highland. Shawn Teague, Henry Johnson, Andre Morgan, Stew Robinson, Winston Morgan, Danny Zachary ...

On and on. You can't conceive what it was like there at tournament time, the place packed to the rafters, 9,000 confirmed hoopheads speaking in one voice. When the place got rocking, you could feel the sound in your chest, a physical hammer blow. You couldn't talk to the guy next to you unless you leaned in and practically shouted in his ear.

It was damn glorious.

And actually living in the place?

That would be glorious, too, and weird. I'd keep expecting former Anderson athletic director Bob Belangee to knock on my door some night and ask me what the heck I was doing there after hours. I'd find myself standing around where the old locker rooms were, an ingrained reflex from all those nights waiting for Buck or Held or Fuller to let us in. And, yeah, every so often, I'd hear that sound again, filling the world the way it always did, hammering away at my chest.

Yes, that would be weird.

And, yes, glorious.

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