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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
A large sign is proudly on display in the south end of the New Castle Fieldhouse proclaiming it is the largest and finest high school gymnasium in the world. Indeed it is the largest high school facility in the world offering 9,325 seats; an impressive basketball arena that is eye catching to any visitor who steps through its doors. In a state where there are 12 of the 15 biggest high school gymnasiums in the world, New Castle is the only one that tops the 9,000 mark.
The facility was opened on November 21, 1959, after the community formed the nonprofit holding company “Gym Now” to raise funds for its completion. The fieldhouse replaced the old Church Street Gym that was quickly outgrowing the demand for tickets. That 1,800 facility was built in 1924 and was known as “the Cracker Box” by many in the community. Season tickets were sold for every other game and 100 places in the standing room only section were designated at the end of the north court with only a rope separating fans from the players. The opposite end of the court offered more SRO tickets on the stage.
By the early 1950’s many in town felt that New Castle was in need of a new basketball gymnasium, but after the school board did not include plans for a new gym, the populace took matters into their own hands by helping fund $875,000 through car washes, donations, jobs, and the sale of bonds. Administration even allowed students to leave school during the day to work jobs towards building of the arena. Finally, on November 21, 1959, the New Castle Fieldhouse debuted as the largest high school arena in the world.
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There are four concession stands at each corner of the main concourse that offer the same menu items. The selections are common at many other high school gyms scattered across the state and the prices are affordable. Hot dogs and nachos are $3. Walking tacos, coneys and beef nachos are $3.50. There are breadsticks that sell for $4, and pizza from local proprietor Mancino's for $2.50 a slice. The always popular popcorn and candy cost just a $1, and Pepsi products are available for $2. Having four stands open is a great way to reduce lines and expedite orders.
Unlike other high school gyms in the state, fans enter at the top of the arena on the main concourse that also serves as an indoor track for physical education classes.The parquet wooden floor is sunken 25 feet below the ground and is surrounded by 24 rows of dense weathered wooden seats, forming an octagonal shape around the basketball court. This allows a chance to breathe in the amount of basketball nostalgia perforating throughout the building, or take a moment to contemplate that you are in such a vast arena. The facility feels more like a monument than a basketball arena. It's a tourist attraction in the same vein as Yankee Stadium, Michigan Stadium, or the Sydney Cricket Ground.
A basketball game here is a community event, a gathering of friends, and a chance to mingle with neighbors throughout the night. The festivities start with the pep band, dressed in tie-dyed shirts playing a collection of popular songs. The student section is adjacent to the band. They stand up before and during the game. The school's mascot rushes on to the court with the players and cheerleaders in a warm up that rivals any level of college hoops. The cheer squad laps around the court waving banners and performing cheers finishing with leading the audience in the pledge of allegiance before the national anthem performed by the pep band. Another tradition, if the visiting school brings along its mascot, is to have them stand back to back during warm ups. The student section turn their backs when the visiting five are announced.
Glancing around you will see both home and away radio announcers at the scorers table, fans decked in home gear, and many tuned in to the action on the parquet court. Banners hang high above the floor and there are various photos, memorabilia, and other banners from the multiple sports teams that have represented the Trojans. The original center court hangs in the north end of the arena and along with a photo of the town's favorite son, Mr. Basketball Steve Alford. The legendary player played in front of packed houses of close to 10,000 before leading Indiana University to a national championship in 1987. His name is synonymous with the city.
New Castle is a town of 18,000 and the home of the Indiana High School Hall of Fame, which is located a few yards away from the fieldhouse offering a stunning display of memorabilia and artifacts from the history of basketball in Indiana. Admission is a steal at $5 for an adult and you can glance over old uniforms, scoreboards, banners, and browse through videos and photographs. If you are a fan of the movie "Hoosiers" the gym where it was film is located 16 miles away in Knightstown, Indiana. You might even be lucky enough to take a few shots on the court.
If you are looking for a bite to eat there are various chain restaurants including Applebee's, Bob Evans, and McDonald's. Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken is a regional chain selling fried chicken. Weenee World is an eccentric dive offering coney dogs. Mancino's dishes out pizza and grinders (sub sandwiches). Jack's Donut Shoppe is an iconic destination that has been serving donuts and coffee since 1961; stop by the original location for a tiger roll, white tail, or cinnamon tail.
There are few local lodging options in town to choose from if staying overnight. The New Castle Inn, Steve Alford All-American Inn, Raintree Inn, and Garden Inn are located within minutes of the fieldhouse. The Steve Alford Inn has a collection of memorabilia from his days playing high school basketball.
There is a collection of fans that can be found throughout the fieldhouse.There are the old-timers who have probably been to every game since the building's inception and can share a few good stories if you lend them an ear. The student body either spends their time rooting for the Trojans or walking around the track socializing. The rest of the fan base cheer with every bucket or rebound made by the home team. There are even a few people taking a couple of laps around the track that equals a quarter of a mile. There is a definite sense of community during the game, a chance to talk to friends, family members, and neighbors.
New Castle Fieldhouse is five miles north of Exit 123 off I-70, but there are no signs for the fieldhouse. However, look for signs for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame which is only a few yards away on Trojan Way. Once inside the venue all of the concessions, bathrooms, and entrances are located on the main concourse which is 25 feet above the playing court.
Tickets for adults are only $5 and there is plenty or parking on the six-acre parking lot. Being able to watch a basketball game in the world's largest high school gymnasium is definitely worth the price of admission.
One extra point for being recognized as the largest high school basketball gymnasium in the world. That is definitely something that the community should be proud of in New Castle.
Another extra point for the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame located next door to the arena. This is not your ordinary sports hall of fame. It is a fascinating facility with equally fascinating memorabilia from some of the sports legends including Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, John Wooden, and Bobby Knight.
The students put forth a wonderful effort throughout the game. The opening festivities during warmups emulate a college game atmosphere with players bursting through paper posters, the band strumming a beat, cheerleaders flipping up and down, and a student section that is frenzied.
A final extra point for being a place that hosts more than just high school basketball. The Harlem Globetrotters, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana University, US men's Olympic volleyball team, US Marine Corps Band, and various concerts have played inside the gymnasium since 1959.
The New Castle Fieldhouse is rather rudimentary in design, but momentous in size. It commands your attention the instant you walk through the doors. The thick, dark brown wooden bleacher seats, parquet floor, and wrap-around concourse is further impressive. I cannot imagine that much has changed since the building open its doors in 1959. It is a sports venue on par with some of the country's greatest.
Member Review by psnell17 on Jan 14, 2016
As a 1974 graduate I feel a bit prejudiced, but it is still true. The thrill when the Trojan Warrior runs through the paper to lead the basketball team while the band plays On New Castle, (On Wisconsin) to the unfurling of the giant American flag at the end of the field house~if you go and are not moved, check your pulse. After all this time, whether the gym is full as in the 1970's when Kent Benson played, (Mr. Basket Ball 1973/IU 76 DREAM TEAM) or 1980's when Steve Alford's amazing talent filled every seat and they even rolled out portable bleachers~nothing has changed. It is just as exciting, it is Hoosier Hysteria at it's best!
341 Trojan Ln
New Castle, IN 47362
533 N Memorial Dr
New Castle, IN 47362