'This gym is something special.' A community's goodbye to Indiana basketball landmark.
PINE VILLAGE – Mary Gamble showed up Saturday morning in her school sweater from 1963, her graduating year at Pine Village. She walked to one end of the basketball gym she’s known as home for more than 60 years and took a shot.
Airball. The ball bounced and came to a rest in front of the stage. She tried again. Another airball. Mary laughed. “Probably because I’m 5-foot tall,” she said.
Over by the scorer’s table, brothers Ed and Ron Russell, stood and talked. Ron wore his 1961 blue-and-white Pine Village letterman’s jacket. Ed, a 1960 graduate, lives nearby and returned to the gym almost every year for alumni banquets. Ron does, too, even though he's lived in St. Charles, Mo., since the 1960s.
“It’s being home again,” Ron said. “I come here to get fresh air.”
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Marv Blessing wore his letter jacket, too. He was a 1964 Pine Village graduate. He sat on a bleacher near the scorer’s table and talked about how he wished they could save this unique gym, built in 1940 as a Works Progress Administration project. “It’s a historical building,” Blessing said. “But I guess it’s progress.”
As Blessing talks, Gamble approaches him to say hello. She points to him. “I bet if I chained myself to the building, he would chain himself to the building, too,” Gamble said with a laugh.
A few minutes later, a slender man wearing a flannel shirt, jeans and a baseball cap walked to the middle of the court, between the two 10-second lines and on the pine trees painted at midcourt to signify the home of the Pine Village Pine Knots. The man, holding a microphone, starts belting out letters.
“Gimme a P!” he shouts, eventually spelling out “Pine Knots” as the people in the gym shout the letters back, some former cheerleaders making the shapes of each letter. “What’s that spell?” he shouts. “Pine Knots, Pine Knots” they yell back.
The man with the microphone sits down at the other end of the court from the stage, where Mary Gamble was shooting. This area, behind the basket, was the rowdy section. This is where Eric Brutus now sits with Jerry Owens, who started his coaching career here many years ago.
“If you made a call against Village down here, you took your life into your hands,” Owens said. “Practically everyone in this section would be standing up and screaming at you.”
The parking lot is full for four hours as folks drop by and pay their final respects to the Pine Village gym, which will soon be demolished. For more than 30 years, it served as a high school basketball gym and even after Pine Village was consolidated in 1973, it was used by elementary students at the school for physical education classes and served as a hub for community events and games.
But there is a new elementary school at Pine Village, a farming community of 212 people in Warren County. The gym, which stands alone in the parking lot behind the school, needs upgrades. Costly upgrades. Which means this beautiful, unique gym with a honeycomb ceiling that rises like a bubble and windows that allow the winter light to shine through will soon be just a memory.
“The memories are always here as long as this is here,” Owens said. “Once it’s torn down, the memories will last for a little while but they start to fade.”
Owens left here long ago. He coached at Pine Village from 1969-72 as the baseball coach, basketball coach for the middle school and junior varsity. Owens went back to his hometown of Crothersville to teach and coach, where he stayed for 30 years. He returned occasionally to Pine Village to pheasant hunt and stop by the gym.
“I took pictures several years ago, but I lost my camera so I wanted to come back by and replace those pictures and see a few people,” Owens said.
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One of those people was Eric Brutus, the man who led the “Pine Knots” cheer. Owens coached Brutus when he was in junior high and coached Brutus’ older brother, Bax, in high school.
“He was a freshman when I first came here,” Owens said of Bax. “We played a lot of one-on-one. I was only 22 so I was beating him like a drum. Sophomore year we played again and it was about 50-50. Junior year, I couldn’t touch him. I remember Bax had this big smile on his face, he was about 6-5 and looked down on me and says, ‘Well coach, I guess you aren’t any good anymore.’ I said, ‘Bax, I don’t think I’m bad, but you just got that much better.’”
Bax Brutus led Pine Village to its first sectional title in 31 years in 1972, a year before the school consolidated. The Pine Knots, the smallest school in the state to win a sectional that season, nearly upset Benton Central in the regional, losing 71-69 despite 23 points and 19 rebounds from Brutus, then a junior.
Just a few months later, was tragically killed when he was electrocuted while working in a soybean bin on his family’s farm. He was 17. Bax’s funeral service was held here in the Pine Village gym, the same place where he provided so many thrills.
“He had a stack of letters that high from colleges already,” said Eric, who was 14 when his brother died. “I’ve still got them out here at the farmhouse. My dad played on the 1939 team that won a sectional for Pine Village. It was a big thing. Winning a sectional was like the Super Bowl for us.”
But the days have long passed when every map dot in Indiana had its own gym. Most of the people who visit the gym Saturday are sad about the gym’s fate, but resigned this was probably going to happen eventually.
“They say it’s going to cost $2 million to keep it up,” Blessing said. “My question is, ‘How much is it going to cost to tear it down?’ It’s sad. It would have been nice to keep it as a community building, but I think the ones making the decisions probably didn’t go to school here.”
Gamble took a look around Saturday before she left. More than 60 years ago, when she was in high school, her father would not allow her to date. Pine Village basketball games were her social life. Her prom was here.
It was a good run of 83 years for this beautiful little building. There were hugs, chants, smiles and even a few tears shed Saturday. Not everybody gets such a heartfelt goodbye.
“This gym is just something special,” she said.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6649.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana high school basketball gyms: Pine Village to be demolished