Orignally published here in the Indy Star.
CRAWFORDSVILLE – Before he took the microphone as the public address announcer Friday night, Gary Linn parked his car in front of the house where he grew up and walked the two blocks to the basketball game between Crawfordsville and Covington like it was 1959. Or 1960. Or 1961.
Linn, 72, is a few years removed from those days. He is a “retired” teacher at Crawfordsville now, though he still teaches three periods of advanced placement history at the high school. But on that walk Friday night to the old Crawfordsville gym, it felt like 1959 all over again. He opened the gym doors and he was 8 years old, listening to the band and cheering on his hometown Athenians.
“It doesn’t take much to get us excited, does it?” a smiling Linn asked as Crawfordsville’s basketball team took the floor to a cheering crowd.
There were a lot of people Friday who experienced the same warm feelings of nostalgia as Linn. Many wore blue-and-yellow letter jackets and lingered in corners of the gym talking about old memories. For the first time since the end of the 1993 season, nearly 30 years to the day, the Crawfordsville basketball team played a varsity game in its old gym, opened in 1940 (Crawfordsville defeated Indianapolis Washington 32-28 Jan. 24, 1940) and closed in 1993 (Crawfordsville lost 75-67 to Greencastle in overtime).
Crawfordsville lost this one, too, falling 58-55 to rival Covington. But it was only a temporary pain for those who lingered on the court chatting after the game. Like Matt Petty, who scored a school record 1,608 points at Crawfordsville — many of them in this gym — before graduating, earning Indiana All-Star honors in 1989 and going on to play at Creighton.
“I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve been in here,” said Petty, the son of longtime Wabash College coach Mac Petty. “But I’ve always been in awe of this place. When my dad took the job at Wabash, I was like 6 or 7. The first time I ever came in here I was like, ‘This place is crazy.’ It looked lot bigger back then. It felt bigger. (Coach) Paul Curtis’ teams were really good and it was fun. This place is unbelievable. I still love it.”
Petty was honored at halftime, alongside the program’s second-leading scorer. Matt McCarty played through his junior season in the old gym, setting a single-game scoring record in the gym with 42 points during his junior season against Lafayette Central Catholic.
“You can’t beat his environment,” McCarty said. “I really missed this place. It meant a lot to me. I really grew up as a basketball player in this gym.”
McCarty was surprised how overcome he was with emotions when he got a sneak peek at the gym during Crawfordsville’s practice Thursday. His son, Mason, is a freshman guard who plays junior varsity and suits up for the varsity.
“I got home from work (Thursday) and my family was gone,” McCarty said. “One of my good friends is an assistant so I hit him up asked if I could sneak in. So I snuck in during practice and emotions took over when I walked in. I was fighting back the tears. And then to be here (Friday night) in the crowd, I’m just speechless.”
Crawfordsville athletic director Bryce Barton said the throwback game was idea that had been in the works for a while. The classrooms surrounding the gym in the old school have been converted to condominiums and the gym had been used as a part of a fitness center.
But for the most part, over the past 30 years, the gym that hosted sectional tournaments until 1971 was just sitting quietly.
“Residents use it to walk and shoot and some people get in here to play some pickup basketball,” Barton said. “But it’s not been used much for anything.”
Barton said plans were finalized in January for the game. The school sold 200 tickets in less than 24 hours. The gym originally had a capacity of 2,300, but Barton said the tickets were capped at about 1,600 for Friday’s packed house.
“There’s obviously a lot of excitement for it, even from people who may not have seen a team play here,” he said. “To see all the people come back in their letter jackets is really cool. We’ve had a great relationship with the owners of the property here and they want to see it get used.”
Many of the fans Friday, Linn included, wore T-shirts noting Crawfordsville’s 1911 state championship — the first in the history of Indiana high school basketball. The Athenians came close to doing it again in 1958 with Dick Baumgartner as coach, reaching the state championship and falling to Fort Wayne South Side.
Back then, the benches at the Crawfordsville gym were on the ends of the court instead of the sidelines. Linn remembers Baumgartner practically defending Alamo sharpshooter Whitey Reath himself from that baseline.
A more distinct memory came from the 1963 sectional when tiny New Ross was the pick to knock off Crawfordsville on its home floor. Instead, Crawfordsville handed 20-win New Ross its second loss of the season on Saturday afternoon, then went on to beat Waveland for the sectional championship.
“They carried Baumgartner around the court after the New Ross game and their fans threw those little paper Coke cups at him,” said Linn, who attended every Crawfordsville sectional game from 1959 to 2020, when COVID stopped his streak. “He just smiled and gave them a ‘thumbs-up’ sign.”