BOYS BASKETBALL

Sectional basketball makes long-awaited return to Civic Center

2013-02-25T17:00:00Z 2014-02-07T20:48:19Z Sectional basketball makes long-awaited return to Civic CenterAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
February 25, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

The nostalgic Hammond Civic Center, like rings on a giant redwood, has an endless list of stories to tell.

A young John Wooden played there in 1937-38 with Whiting's Ciesar All-Americans of the National Basketball League.

Roller Derby golden girl Joanie "Blonde Bomber" Weston once took a glass baby bottle upside the head as she skated past an irate mother at trackside.

Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman all fought there — on closed circuit TV, of course.

But of all the curious attractions, basketball and the now refurbished 4,200-seat Civic Center still go together like french fries and ketchup.

Tonight, the historic building plays host to a boys sectional for the first time since 2005 as Clark, Gavit, Griffith, Hammond High, Lew Wallace and Roosevelt battle for Class 3A honors.

"It's a basketball palace. There's not a bad seat in the place," said legendary Calumet coach Carl Traicoff. "There are three gyms in my opinion that have the best spectator seats in basketball: the Hammond Civic Center, its twin sister the Whiting High School gym and the third one is Calumet.

"The first two are very nostalgia-based. I played in both of them. I coached in both of them. Beautiful, beautiful buildings to watch basketball in. The Civic Center epitomizes Hoosier Hysteria."

Hammond High athletic director Larry Moore Sr., a former prep standout for the Wildcats, grew up with the Civic Center as a player and coach. His 'Cats beat Gavit in the 2005 championship game.

"I watched games there as a kid and there was always excitement in the air," Moore said. "Fans wanted to be there. They came to watch good basketball. As a player, you looked forward to every sectional, every ballgame, we played in there.

"Maybe it's because of the seating upstairs. It's a (springy) court you could always jump well on. I had some pretty good games on that court, which is one of the reasons I wanted to go back there and bring some of that mystique back to Hammond."

Moore said athletic directors of the participating schools have agreed to rotate as sectional hosts each year at the Civic Center site. They hope to land a regional there as well.

Morton three-sport standout and 1966 grad Darrel Chaney starred for the Cincinnati Reds and was part of the "Big Red Machine." His Governors had to play home games at the Civic Center because they had no gym of their own.

"It was THE place to go if you were anywhere or anybody," Chaney said. "We always had big crowds during the season. The bottom rows were full as well as the top two or three rows in the balcony.

"At sectionals, the place was packed."

Pat Moore, long-time Hammond Parks & Recreation administrator, had pushed for years to bring the sectional back to the Civic Center.

"I went to Hammond High and, my god, if I got my hands on a sectional ticket, I sure didn't tell my friends because somebody would try to steal it from me," he said.

"When they built this thing, they really built it right." 

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