During my early years in Anderson, the Wigwam was the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night.
Not the 8,998-seat basketball palace that closed a couple of years ago. It was the original Wigwam, a building seating less than 5,000 between 13th and 14th streets next to what was then Anderson High School, on Lincoln Street.
Perhaps these memories linger for the same reason they stick in the minds of a preponderance of Andersonians my age and older, for whom the Indians embodied the sport itself.
For those older than I, the teams I saw play didn’t measure up to the standards set by Indian teams of the 1930s and ’40s when three state championships were notched and annual semistate and state finals berths were expected.
The year before I moved to Anderson, the Indians had lost an 82-81 verdict to Indianapolis Attucks in the regional. Original tales had Bailey Robertson (Oscar’s older brother) sinking a game-winning heave from well beyond midcourt. More realistic renderings recounted Robertson’s more reasonable 20-foot jumper as the Indians celebrated prematurely.
Coach Dobbie Lambert departed for a college job, and Hank Potter took the helm during my seventh-grade year. His three-year tenure was less successful with just one sectional title and a .500 record.
But I still remember those players. They included Herb Hood, John Clemons, Haynes Harrington, Roger Whitehead, Joe Campbell, Jerry Morgan and others. Scores included a 60-38 opening win over Greenfield in 1951 and a 68-67 thriller over Lafayette Jeff. And in 1953 the Indians beat South Bend Central, which went on to win the state championship.
Fortunes improved under Ick Osborne with two trips to the regional in Butler Fieldhouse (now named for Tony Hinkle). The Indians had some pretty capable players in the lineup, such as Jim Leverette, Delano Sanders, Dick Stith, Jim Lutton and Lucius Teague; unfortunately for them, those were the years Attucks won state championships with Oscar Robertson on the court.
My senior year saw Norman Delph pumping in jump shots from everywhere on the court. I remember one weekend where he had 20 points the first night and 30 the next. But 1956-57 was a down year before a semistate opportunity the following year. It was also the year Madison Heights opened, fragmenting the student population.
The Indians beat a tough Elwood team, which included Darrell McQuitty and Dick Mitchell, in the holiday tourney my senior year. Some of us began chanting “On to the regional!” while others went “Shh, we aren’t there yet.” The latter were right as the Panthers notched their first sectional title that year.
The old Wigwam burned after the 1958 season, and the new one ushered in some of the Tribe’s finest campaigns. But some of us still recall fondly the days of the old gym with its wall-to-wall green wooden bleachers.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.