The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Sports

February 24, 2011

Last dance?

AHS hosts Chatard tonight in perhaps Wigwam's final game

ANDERSON, Ind. — If tonight’s Anderson boys basketball game is to be the last ever played at the Wigwam, Indians coach Ron Hecklinski does not intend to go down without a fight.

“I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world to have had this job here for 18 years,” Hecklinski said. “And now they’re making absurd comments about closing the Wigwam on my watch?”

Two years ago, when word of the financial strain the Wigwam complex has placed on Anderson Community Schools first began to surface, Hecklinski said he would walk away from his job if the historic gymnasium was closed.

He certainly didn’t seem ready to back away from that stance Wednesday, on the eve of the Indians’ final home game of the season against Indianapolis Chatard.

The school board also has scheduled a town hall meeting tonight at which all of superintendent Felix Chow’s budget proposals — which include the closing of the Wigwam — will be discussed.

The timing of the meeting is unfortunate, but not intentional, according to school board president Dr. Scott Green.

He said the forum has been planned since last fall, when there was no way of knowing the Wigwam even would be on the agenda.

A second town hall meeting has been scheduled for March 3 and will be announced tonight as an alternative for basketball fans and anyone else who can’t attend tonight’s forum.

“There was no ill intent on our part,” Green said. “We really want as many people as possible to participate.”

The board is expected to vote on the Wigwam’s future during its March 8 meeting.

Indian mascot Hayden Weaver isn’t willing to wait that long.

The senior, who spent his first three years of high school at Highland, has spearheaded an online effort to fill the gym one last time tonight.

Before the season, Weaver started a Facebook fan page dedicated to the Wigwam. It had 793 members Wednesday evening, and in recent weeks Weaver has used the page to reach out to AHS alumni and encourage them to return — and bring as many others as possible along with them — to the gym tonight.

“The Wigwam is one of the biggest landmarks left in this city,” he said. “It’s a struggling city, and the Wigwam is one of the few things left that’s holding it together.”

Weaver has heard stories from his parents about sitting in Section XX because there were no other seats available in the building that can accomodate nearly 9,000 fans. He’s also heard stories from teachers about sectional tickets being re-sold for as much as $400.

It all seems like a dream to him.

“I think it would be really cool to experience that (capacity crowd) just once,” Weaver said.

Hecklinski is impressed by Weaver’s commitment. But he said it saddens him that it has fallen to a student to get the word out about the Indians.

“I love Hayden Weaver,” he said. “He’s got passion. He’s got spirit. This is his first year (as the mascot), and I’m tickled to death he’s (promoting the team). But I’m not sure it’s his job to do it. Our students are out there trying to fill it. Is that what it’s come to?”

It hasn’t been a strong season for Anderson on the court. The Tribe has lost 11 straight games and has a 3-16 record.

But Weaver said the players he’s talked to fully support his efforts to fill the gym. They believe the energy created by a packed house could fuel them.

No matter which way the school board vote goes, Weaver knows tonight will be his and Maiden Martha Byer’s last performance at the Wigwam.

He can envision leading the team onto the floor with a full house cheering them on.

“It would be so heart-racing,” he said. “All eyes on you and the team, 9,000 pairs of eyes. It would be an amazing feeling to bring back that tradition one last time. If it is the last time.”

Hecklinski said fans in Anderson don’t know what they’ve got in the Wigwam.

Friends from around the country constantly ask him for updates on the gym. And he fears they care more about the place’s history and tradition than the hometown fans.

“There’s an old song that says sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have till it’s gone,” he said. “That’s a wise old saying in life. And I know what the next line of that song is: They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

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