By Rick Palsgrove
Who says you can’t go home again?
The Groveport Madison Cruisers boys varsity basketball team proved you can by playing a special one time home game in the large, 64-year-old historic gym at Middle School Central on Groveport’s Main Street.
The Cruisers reconnected with the school’s basketball past by playing in the gym on Dec. 3, even hosting an old time neighborhood rival – the Hamilton Township Rangers. The Cruisers did the old gym proud by trouncing the Rangers 80-34 behind leading scorer Lony Francis’ 23 points.
Groveport Madison Athletic Director Steve Petros said, with the district getting ready to open a new high school and gym in 2018, playing the one time home game at the historic gym in the former high school on Main Street was a nice way to connect the current team to its community basketball roots.
“We thought it would be a fun idea to come back here and play a game,” said Groveport Madison Athletic Director Steve Petros. “The kids liked the idea, too.”
History of Cruiser gyms
The Cruisers have fielded boys and girls basketball teams for more than a century and in that time the squads have had four gyms they called home.
The first was not a gym at all, but the second floor ballroom of Groveport Town Hall where the teams played from the early 1900s to 1922. This was the venue where the girls teams of 1918 and 1919 compiled a 22-0 record over two seasons.
In 1923 the teams moved into the gym in the lower level of Groveport School (now Groveport Elementary). The gym, with its overhanging balconies and close brick walls was a loud and intimidating place for opponents. This gym was the home to the 1935 team, the school’s only state boys basketball tournament finals qualifier. It also was the home court of several Franklin County League champion teams, both boys and girls.
In 1952 a new gym was built beside Groveport School and it was the first phase constructed in what would become Groveport Madison High School (and later Middle School Central) on Main Street. When it was constructed, this gym was the largest high school gym in Franklin County. Its unique features included spacious balconies, a linoleum tile playing floor, and a large performance stage at the south end of the gym. This gym served as the teams’ home court until 1971 when the teams moved into a then new high school gym on South Hamilton Road – which is a compact and raucous place that gives a decided atmospheric home court advantage to the Cruisers – where the teams have played ever since. A new gym will become the teams’ fifth home in 2018 when the new high school is completed.
The 1952 gym
The 1952 gym looks much different now than it did in its glory years when it was home to the 1963-64 Mid-Eight League boys basketball champions.
The old gym today only has bleachers on one side, but it still has its sprawling balconies and huge stage which afford great viewpoints for games. The linoleum tile floor of its early years had been covered later with carpeting, but thankfully both the tile and carpeting were replaced a few years ago by a nice wood floor, which was a big improvement for the playing surface.
The Dec. 3 game against Hamilton Township drew a large and vocal crowd that was reminiscent of the crowds that filled the massive old gym in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. In those days, with floor bleachers on both sides of the floor level as well as on the stage and balconies, the gym could hold big crowds which in turn produced loud cheering and a great home team environment.
A player’s memories
When asked about the atmosphere in the the 1952 high school gym during its heyday, former Cruiser basketball player and 1971 Groveport Madison graduate Buddy Waters said, “Well, let me put it this way, it was very loud. With the pep band playing and people yelling you could hardly hear on the floor. What a great gym!”
The linoleum tile gym floor that was once in the gym was another matter.
“I loved the gym, it just didn’t like me,” said Waters. “The floor was so hard on everyone’s legs. No give or bounce. But that floor was our sixth man. We were used to it. You could trap half court and force the opposing player to dribble on one of the numerous loose tiles causing the ball to die.”
Waters said he has great memories of the gym besides the basketball games, including homecoming dances, proms, and other events.
“As a kid I remember the uniforms with the stars on them that players wore in the 1960s,” said Waters. “The class of 1971 was the last varsity team to play there. I remember the balcony was always full as were the bleachers. Mr. Neil Stevenson worked the popcorn machine located in the lobby as you came in from the outside. The gym doors from the lobby we’re always open and I can still remember the smell of fresh popcorn and Mr. Stevenson looking in and cheering.”
One may say, “Well, it’s just a gymnasium.” But, it is our shared public places – like gyms, parks, churches, schools, downtowns, and even our neighborhood streets and sidewalks – that spark memories, create immersive experiences, and maintain our linear connection to our
past, present and future. Such places link a community together.
It’s awesome that the new high school’s Cruisers will be playing basketball 100 years after the first team did in a Groveport high school gymnasium. Wow!