Whittling away at gym list

Perhaps my favorite thing about Indiana is that basketball gymnasiums aren’t just gymnasiums here. They’re shrines honoring the unofficial state religion.

While I’ve now lived more than a third of my life in this state, this is just my third winter covering high school basketball here, so I’m playing catch-up in terms of paying homage at the various gyms that make Indiana the undisputed capital of the sport.

Basketball was invented in my native Massachusetts, but no state truly owns the game like the Hoosier State does.

Thirteen of the 14 largest high school gyms in America sit within our state borders, including the six largest. I’ve been to five of those 13 so far, and their massiveness is truly impressive. Most Division I college teams would be thrilled to play their home games in Southport, Richmond or Marion — and seeing Seymour’s 8,110-seat gym filled to capacity for a Saturday morning regional game last winter was mind-blowing. That such a sight was commonplace a generation or two ago makes me a bit envious of the folks who grew up getting to regularly experience that atmosphere.

I’m hoping to see some team from Johnson County get an invitation to a Hall of Fame Classic in the near future so I can finally check out the gym at New Castle, the largest in America.

But the biggest gyms aren’t the only ones that make Indiana special. I’m partial to the old-school setups at places like Edinburgh and Indian Creek, and the recently renovated gym down the street at Hauser maintains a throwback feel.

Before I’m done, I’d like to pay visits to some of the other unique venues around the state — Washington’s Hatchet House, The Cave in Mishawaka or the gyms at such schools as Orleans, Rushville, Tell City or West Vigo. So many of these places look really cool in photos, and I can imagine they’re even cooler in person.

As one of the few people who actually liked “Blue Chips,” I also feel compelled to pay a visit to Frankfort’s Case Arena, the home of the fictional Western University. It’s doubtful that any game I saw there would match seeing a young Shaq and Penny playing against the likes of Bobby Hurley and Calbert Cheaney, but still.

Speaking of movie sets … I finally got to check the Hoosier Gym off of my bucket list last week, and it was one of the crowning moments of my sporting life. Walking in there was like stepping onto a movie screen, and I had a hard time focusing on the games themselves because I was riding such an incredible nerd high.

After filing my story, I got a chance to go down into the Hickory locker room, and I knocked down the only shot I’ll ever take on that court (a 3 from the top of the key that I was sure I had air-balled when I let it go). The fact that Robert Garner and the rest of the staff there treated my wife and kids like royalty made my maiden voyage there that much more special.

I’m not sure any other venue in the state will be able to top that experience, but I’m planning to give as many schools as possible the opportunity.

Ryan O’Leary is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net.