A GYM BIG ON HISTORY

It takes a lot of moving parts to fill the stands at one of the largest high school gymnasiums in the country.

Since 1970, the Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium has stood at the forefront of high school basketball venues.

With a capacity of 8,110, the gym has seen unforgettable games and future NBA players.

“The bleacher system we have, I’ve been told several times but don’t have the numbers, is the largest wooden pullout system in the world,” Seymour athletics director Brandon Harpe said. “Most gyms don’t do wood anymore because of the damage that can be done to it.”

From the 1970s through the 1990s, the gym often would fill all three tiers.

For a number of years, Seymour would put in temporary bleachers. Those bleachers would increase the gym’s capacity to nearly 10,000 people.

The gymnasium has eight concession stands, and the top tier has basketball courts/floors that can be used when the bleachers are put against the wall.

Back in the day, hall of fame coach Bob Knight brought his Indiana University men’s basketball team and conducted an open practice. However, due to more stringent NCAA regulations, college teams no longer can play on Seymour’s 80-foot floor.

With a decline in the basketball teams’ successes and a many activities in Seymour to take part in, the gym doesn’t fill up like it used to.

“It’s challenging to fill a gym of that size. You can have a big crowd of a couple thousand people, and it looks empty,” Owls boys basketball coach Kyle Clough said. “Last year, against Brownstown Central, we had around 2,000 people. When you don’t get people in the upper deck, it tends to feel big.”

Clough’s mission is to return the boys basketball team to its former glory.

“We’re just not at the level where our kids draw huge crowds,” Clough said.  “If our kids continue to improve and the level of play goes up, we will start getting people in there.

“All I’ve heard from everyone is how we were good in the ’90s and used to fill this place up. When I got here, I said, ‘By God I’m going to find out somehow.'”

During some basketball games, officials will close off the top tier of the stadium.

“For some of the girls games, it’s felt like we’ve had huge crowds because we’ve been dropping the curtains and not opening the upstairs,” Harpe said. “That forces everyone downstairs. We’re very happy with the crowds. It’s just filling a space that big is challenging.”

Athletics directors and coaches across the state have noticed a decline in high school basketball attendance and also noticed that a large chunk of the fans who attend games are older.

“I think it’s a combination of two things,” Clough said. “One, I think the lore of Indiana basketball has changed with time generationally. When you look across the country, there are less fans that go to high school games. There’s just so many things to do in society today that the crowds are just naturally down. It seems like in the ’60s and ’70s, that was it.”

When high schools moved to class basketball in 1998, attendance also started to declined.

The addition of more sports during the winter season has affected attendance.

“It used to be, during the wintertime, that basketball was the only sport,” Harpe said. “There is swimming, gymnastics, wrestling, youth sports and so many other things going on. Us and some other schools have been noticing this.”

With advancements in technology, many younger fans can now get updates from the palms of their hands.

Another trend that’s been noticed is that fans aren’t traveling to other communities for games like they used to.

“Now, every game is on the radio, on the Internet, social media, and some are even on TV,” Harpe said. “It used to be you had to go to the game to get that instant information. Open enrollment also has played a role, with more students having options. To a degree, we’ve lost that community feel in high schools around the state.”

Seymour is the only high school in the state to host sectional, regional and semistate boys basketball games during the postseason.

During those games, the stadium attracts around 5,000 people and 50-plus members of the media.

In recent years, future NBA players Cody and Tyler Zeller both played in the gym during semistate play. Current IU point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell also has played in Seymour during the postseason.

About a month ago, IU men’s basketball coach Tom Crean and several basketball coaches from around the state conducted a coaching clinic in the gym.

When the Zeller brothers were in high school, Crean brought the entire IU team, including current Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo, to scout the school’s future stars.

The gym is used every day of the week between school athletics and community events such as health fairs and youth basketball.

Clough said that he reminds his team how special the gym is compared to many around the country.

“It was unique for me when I first got here,” Clough said. “For most of these guys, they grew up around it. It’s like anything else in life, when you’re around it, you kind of get used to it and maybe even take it for granted a little bit.

“There is still a level of appreciation for it, and we try to stress that to our guys. We try to motivate them a little bit by reminding them of the games and players that played in the gym.”

The unsung heroes for the gym are the custodians.

There are four full-time and two part-time custodians that take care of all of the athletics facilities at Seymour High School.

“When you get six or seven thousand people, it’s a load,” custodian Gary McKay said. “Sometimes, we have to do them during the afternoon before championship games. We’ve taken out as many as 100 garbage bags during the postseason. We’ve filled our dumpsters and had to bring trash off site.”

Those on the custodial staff said they take pride in their work at Seymour High School.

“Everybody that comes in here and knows what we do and they see it,” McKay said. “A lot of people shake their heads and ask how we do it. It’s routine for us.”

One of the most noticeable traits of the gym is its shine.

“We used to coat it in polyurethane, but it’s water-based now,” head custodian Joe Crebs said. “It’s safer and doesn’t yellow. It stays clear and holds up longer. With polyurethane, we had to put two coats on, and the whole floor would be dark yellow. It’s been that way for about 10 years.”

Top-10 largest high school gyms in the country

1: New Castle Fieldhouse (New Castle) — 9,325

2: John A. Baratto Athletic Center (East Chicago) — 8,296

3: Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium (Seymour) — 8,110

4: Tiernan Center (Richmond) — 8,100

5: Bill Green Athletic Arena (Marion) — 7,560

6: Alfred J. Loos Fieldhouse (Dallas) — 7,500

7: North Side Gymnasium (Elkhart) 7,373

8: “The Wolves’ Den” Gym (Michigan City) — 7,304

9: West Side High School Gym (Gary) — 7,217

10: Jefferson High School Gym (Michigan City) — 7,200

Author photo
Jordan Morey is sports editor at The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at jmorey@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.