You'd better sit down: Indiana's largest high school basketball gym changes after seating count
Doug Bradley meticulously counted the seats inside Indiana gyms. He went back to original architectural drawings and blueprints from the days when the gyms were built. He took into account temporary seating that, through the years, would add to sellout crowd numbers reported in newspapers.
And more than 60 years after New Castle High's fieldhouse was built, proclaiming itself the largest high school gym in the world, it is no longer No. 1, according to Bradley's findings.
In a Facebook post shared this week on the group Indiana High School Basketball Fans, the headline read: "Seymour, not New Castle, now the Largest Gym in Indiana!"
"Thanks to the diligent work of good basketball gentlemen like Doug Bradley and John Ockomon (both of the Indiana High School Basketball Historical Society,) the long accepted list of largest gym seating capacities has had multiple alterations. New Castle can still make a claim for 'Finest,' but their banner stating it's the largest needs an alteration. How about third?"
Seymour High's Lloyd E. Scott gym now takes first place — according to the Indiana High School Basketball Historical Society and current counts — with a seating capacity of 8,228.
Take a look at the lists
After the research and the seat counts, here is the list of the new top 10 largest Indiana high school gyms:
1. Seymour, 8,228
2. East Chicago, 8,054
3. New Castle, 7,829
4. Richmond, 7,786
5. Marion, 7,560
6. Elkhart, 7,373
7. Michigan City, 7,304
8. Gary West Side, 7,217
9. Lafayette Jeff, 7,200
10. Southport, 7,124
Here is the former top 10 list with seating capacity:
1. New Castle, 9,325
2. Anderson, 8,996
3. Elkhart, 8,700
4. East Chicago, 8,296
5. Seymour, 8,110
6. Richmond, 8,100
7. Marion, 7,560
8. Michigan City, 7,304
9. Gary West Side, 7,217
10. Lafayette Jeff, 7,200
"(It's a) good story of changing times," said Roger Robison, president of IHSBHS.
The society was founded in 1994 with a mission to conduct independent and scholarly research "to correct or verify claims publicly stated regarding Indiana high school basketball records." The research, according to the society, is accomplished largely by its members making actual counts, conducting personal interviews, and examining old newspaper microfilms in public libraries or other reliable sources.
IndyStar reached out to New Castle athletic director Shane Osting. In an e-mail he said, "I’m not quite sure about this. Let me look into it."
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Bradley, a long-time board member of the IHSBHS, suspects New Castle never had quite the seating capacity it claimed, said Clifford Johnson, vice president of the society and editor of its quarterly "Boxscore" publication.
"Doug is a virtual walking encyclopedia on Indiana high school basketball history," Johnson said, "especially as it pertains to state schools and related statistics."
Through the years, there had been some controversy as to whether Anderson’s Wigwam (now closed) or the New Castle Fieldhouse had the largest seating capacity of any high school gymnasium.
Most sources have given New Castle the honor, with a reported capacity of 9,325. Until this week, Wikipedia's list of the nation's largest high school gyms ranked New Castle No. 1. It has since updated the list to put Seymour in first. Nine of the biggest gyms on that list are in Indiana.
New Castle's fieldhouse was completed in 1959, two years earlier than Anderson’s, and from the beginning made the claim of being the largest. And that claim stuck even as other gyms -- perhaps with larger seating capacities -- popped up throughout the state.
But New Castle's claim got another look more than two years ago when Bradley walked into the transportation and maintenance building of the high school and asked if he could take a look at the old bleacher section that once served as temporary seating for the fieldhouse.
"The seats in that section had always been included in the total seat count, even though an ongoing dispute over the actual number of seats existed," according to Johnson. "But the bleacher seats were not usually all set up for use in the school’s games."
In fact, those bleachers were often used only during tournament time, when additional seating was needed.
For those who grew up at a time when high school basketball was the heartbeat of local towns, shifting a list of largest high school gyms decades ago might have been called "blasphemy," Bradley said.
Today, he's not so sure anybody will care.
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via e-mail: email@example.com.