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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The John Wooden Gymnasium is home to the Martinsville High School Artesians basketball team and home to both sectionals and regionals in Indiana. The gym debuted in January of 1977 replacing the Glen Curtis Gymnasium that had been home to the Artesians since 1924. It is also where the school’s most famous alumnus, John Wooden, was an All-State player, leading the club to the 1927 state championship. The gymnasium that bears his name holds 5,200 spectators, exactly the same amount as the older facility.
The town of Martinsville has a population of 12,000 and is located in between Indianapolis (32 miles) and Bloomington (22 miles) on SR-37. The small town has been fervent basketball supporters since the program began at the start of the last century. The Arties have captured two more state titles in 1924 and 1933 and feature five players who would later be enshrined in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
Basketball was such a phenomenon in Martinsville, that when the Curtis Gym opened in 1924, it seated more people (5,200) than the population of the entire county (4,800). It was also the largest high school basketball facility in the world (until the Muncie Fieldhouse opened in 1928) and larger than arenas at both Purdue and Indiana University. Its size helped usher in the era of larger fieldhouses for the game of basketball in Indiana.
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There is a selection at every game for fans to experiment with, and most prices are well under $3.50 an item. The highlights include the Spam and cheese sandwich served on a bun for $2.50 and the pulled pork and chips for $3. There is also a rib-eye steak sandwich for $3.50, grilled bologna for $2, brats and nachos. However, it is the the hot dogs that come with a variety of names and condiments. First, there is the basic hot dog, but there is also the MAN hot dog. The same for the coney dog, slaw dog, and cheese dogs. More adventurous fans may ponder to ask what the ARTIE or The "Ville" dogs are, the first is topped with slaw and ARTIE sauce, while the "Ville" features slaw and chili.
The great food is attributed to head concession man Greg Fitzpatrick, who tries to make everything in house and lower the cost to the fans. Most, if not all, of the food is homemade and all dogs are under $3. He also takes ideas for more outrageous food items and during regional play creates a sandwich for each sectional champion. This is one Indiana high school gymnasium where you will not go hungry, but may weigh a few pounds more after the game.
There is truly something magical about attending a sectional or regional basketball game in Indiana. It is not your basic run-of-the-mill audience that you may be accustomed to. It is replaced with supporters traveling several miles to share in the joy of their home team's run towards a state title. All of the teams playing in the sectional tournament are within a 45 minute drive from Martinsville making travel quite easy for students, parents, and locals.
The fans are divided on each end of the facility and strict rules are applied on proper etiquette throughout the game. The student section of both squads are highly visible and are active with chants, cheers, and funky costumes throughout the contest. Not that they have to do any cheering, because the rest of the audience provides a boisterous atmosphere throughout the contest.
The facility is one of the more modern fieldhouses of its size in the state and features its own charm and piquancy. The upper balcony offers thick brown removable bleacher seating that wraps around the gymnasium. There are banners hanging up of former championships won by the school, and John Wooden's signature is neatly displayed on the court. There is also a wax figure of him outside the main lobby and a small plaque inside the gym that lists his many accomplishments.
The high school sits exactly on the main SR-37 that runs between Indianapolis and Bloomington, but there is not an exact exit or entrance from this road. You are within minutes of a few great restaurants that include a few local establishments and national chain restaurants.
Indy's Family Restaurant is one of the better places to enjoy a good home cooked meal, Sgt. Pepper's has the best fried chicken in town, Bynum's Steakhouse has exquisite steaks, and Los Reyes has delicious Mexican cuisine.
If you are looking for fast food chains there are quite a few located right on SR-37. If you fancy a trip to downtown Indianapolis or Bloomington you are very close, Bloomington is about 20 minutes away and downtown Indy is another 30 minutes north.
There are also a few hotels in town that include the Holiday Inn, Best Western, and Super 8.
The sectionals attract a lot of people from the area. The fans at the game are respectful of one another and are there to root for their team. The student sections are amazing to look at just for their sheer dedication and loyalty to the sport; the same can be said for the rest of the fans sitting in other parts of the arena. The focus is on the sport and nothing else.
The school and gym are located right off of SR-37 and are highly visible from the highway. It is a little tricky to actually get to the campus, since there's not a direct entrance from the main road. I would suggest you use your GPS to make sure you arrive there without frustration. The gymnasium itself is well marked with signs for concessions and bathrooms and there are separate entrances to the first and second levels of seats.
You get a lot of bang for your buck attending one of the sectionals in Martinsville. Tickets cost between $6 and $10 depending on the package and you get a heck of a lot of great food at very low prices. The great food, fans, and atmosphere makes this a fantastic destination for high school hoops.
Did I mention how great the food was at the game? It may not be the healthiest, but I love to see interesting sandwiches and homemade creations served at sporting events. It reminds me of the type of food I had at Limeport Stadium in Pennsylvania a few years ago. It is good honest cuisine.
There is a sense of efficiency when attending the game here. A lot of the sectional sites can get jam packed with fans and security and ushers are unable to keep up with the demand and people inside the arena. This was not a sold out game, but administration and student helpers assisted with any questions from fans entering the building. It was a well oiled machine.
John Wooden deserves extra points for not only being the legend from Martinsville, but having his name on the facility. Before he became The Wizard of Westwood, he was a pretty gritty basketball player for the Artesians here in town. His former gym is also still around albeit with major changes. It might be worth checking out a historic Indiana high school venue.
I enjoyed the stylized M monogram that was printed on every seat inside the building. A nice little personalized touch inside the arena.
John Wooden Gymnasium is very impressive. It is an arena that provides spacious seating, delicious high calorie food, and a little bit of history from the school's past. The assistance from the school's directors and students also make for a nice experience at the game. I wish I lived closer, because I wouldn't mind having another one of those Spam sandwiches.
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2233 Burton Ln
Martinsville, IN 46151