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And Another Thing

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File / Associated Press
The Anderson High School Indian mascot leaps over the Indian Maiden before a basketball game at the Wigwam in 2005. The pre-game dance by the Indian and Maiden has been a school tradition.

Death of a landmark

Well, this is not the sort of news you want to see while you're drinking the day's first cup of coffee.

Back when the step was more sure and the profle more resembled a yardstick than a beanbag chair, I spent a decade working in Anderson, and it was the best decade. If high school basketball had a heyday in a city that pretty much defined high school basketball in this state, the 1980s were it. And the Wigwam was at the center of it.

At the time, if memory serves, it was the second or third largest high school gymnasium in the world (after New Castle Chrysler right down the road). And when the magnificent old barn filled up with 8,000 fans for Anderson-Muncie Central or Anderson-Marion or the fierce crosstown battles with Madison Heights and Highland, there was no place like it anywhere. In 33 years as a sportswriter, I never heard any place that could get louder.

Some of the best memories of my career are tied to the place: The night the Highland fan sitting behind me shouted "Sit down, ya bushy-headed bastard!" at Anderson coach Norm Held and his curled 'do ... the night Highland and Madison Heights went three epic overtimes in the sectional ... the next night, when Gary Delph rose up to strike down the Indians for Highland with two seconds left in the sectional championship game ... the night tiny Daleville beat Anderson to win the most memorable sectional I ever saw there.

But the town was flush with GM cash then, and now it's not. So the Wigwam had become an expensive luxury for a severely deflated tax base, and thus an out-of-its-time anachronism. And so its doors will close.

In retrospect, it's an indirect casualty of class basketball, which fragmented high school hoops in this state and splintered the commonality of experience that used to make all those Friday nights seem like the biggest thing in the world. Attendance in the 'Wam was dwindling even before the IHSAA hacked Hoosier Hysteria into four separate and diminished pieces, but afterward the process only accelerated, as it did pretty much everywhere. In a class system, there's no need for the big venues anymore, at least until you get to state.

Here's the truth of it: If the Wigwam were still playing host to sectionals and regionals and drawing 8,000 fans a night, it would have been much tougher to argue it wasn't pulling its own economic weight. But the fact is, in the new post-class reality, it wasn't.

And so it's gone. And a big piece of my personal history goes with it.

Ben Smith's blog.

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