By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin
---- — First the Wigwam was closed. Now there is talk in Muncie that the equally venerated North Walnut Street Fieldhouse could fall victim to the budget ax as school officials look for ways to save money on expenses.
The Fieldhouse, of course, is considerably older and somewhat smaller than the Wigwam. It was built in 1928 at a cost of some $400,000. Nowadays it takes an amount approaching that every year just to keep the doors open.
Like the Wigwam, the Muncie Fieldhouse is not part of an immediate high school campus. It is close enough to Muncie Central High School, however, that some costs can be shared and transportation to and from practices and games is not a major problem.
Right now it seems talk of closing the Fieldhouse is preliminary. Basketball being what it is in Muncie, the school board seems more inclined to shut down a school building or two before thinking of boarding up the historic facility. Sound familiar? Not to mention that fans are just as hot under the collar as were Indian partisans a couple of years ago. And there is talk that gym facilities in the school proper, constructed with Fieldhouse availability in mind, are not adequate for the busy Muncie Central program.
Fieldhouse capacity is listed at 6,547. Years ago it was about a thousand more, at one time hosting one of the single-class semistate tournaments before it was moved to Fort Wayne’s 10,000-seat Memorial Coliseum.
That preceded the construction of other nearby gymnasiums that dwarfed the ancient building. The Wigwam once had 9,012 seats, including bleachers on the stage, reduced to 8,998 by the scorer’s bench and press tables. And new Castle’s famous Fieldhouse was completed a couple years earlier, holding 9,314. Richmond’s seats 8,100.
Seating capacity was terribly important in the days of the single-class tournament when sectionals traditionally were sellouts and the largest facilities available hosted tournaments year after year.
Those were the days when high school basketball was king in Indiana. Season tickets were at a premium then, because that was the only way fans could get a crack at tournament tickets. And generally those large arenas were filled on regular-season Friday and Saturday nights as well.
That was before class basketball, the Pacers, the Colts, NCAA Division I basketball and countless other diversions started eating into attendance at Indiana high school basketball games.
When the high school gym that now serves as Anderson High School’s home was built, it seated upwards of 3,500. Crowds of as low as 2,000 at the Wigwam demonstrated no need for an 8,000-capacity facility. Nor has there been a capacity crowd at the former Pirate Palace, which now seats less than 3,000.
Doubtless the Muncie Fieldhouse has been way under capacity of late as well. Will it join the Wigwam on the list of abandoned buildings? Stay tuned.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.