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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Basketball is big in Connersville, Indiana, and it is home to one of the iconic high school gymnasiums in the state. The Spartan Bowl is known to many as “The Grand Palace on Grand Avenue” and with a capacity of 5,134, it’s among the biggest in the state.
The facility opened on November 8, 1958 and bears a striking resemblance to the New Castle Fieldhouse a few miles northwest of town which opened the following season. A recent $300,000 renovation replaced the original gym floor and added sound barriers to its ceiling.
The facility has witnessed two state championship teams in 1972 and 1983. The “Grand Palace” nears its 6th decade of use and is still in great shape, offering basketball memories to generations of fans of Connersville High School.
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The usual high school cuisine is found at the Spartan Bowl. They include hot dogs, peanuts, pizza, and nachos. Coca-Cola products are served inside the facility. The best part is that prices are ridiculously reasonable-everything is $4 and under for games.
The walking taco is always a good way to enjoy the game, or grab a couple hot dogs or slices of pizza for $2 each. There are two concession stands at each corner of the venue, more open up when crowds are near maximum.
The atmosphere builds up as you approach the town by car and look for a spot along the streets of the residential neighborhood. You will see plenty of fans making their way towards the gymnasium that blends in well with the copious homes in the proximity. The Spartan Bowl does not stand out in awe, rather it saves it as a surprise once you enter through its doorways.
The gymnasium has an impressive capacity of 5,134 and all of the seats are of the wooden bench type without backs. An old-fashion electronic scoreboard hovers above center court. The arena floor is built 18-rows deep under the ground incorporating a running track that serves as a concourse on the top.
Here is where fans mingle, purchase concessions, and frequent various tables selling team merchandise, raffle tickets, and sentiments from glory years past. Basketball is also heavily discussed by long time fans and season-ticket holders.
Up above and hanging from the roof are sound barriers that create a fascinating ambiance and adds a nice touch to the facility's decor. The school's most cherished accomplishments--the 1972 and 1983 State Championship banners--hang proudly on one side of the venue. There are plenty more accolades, team photographs, and other memorabilia housed along the vast main concourse to browse before or during breaks in the game.
Introductions are lead by the cheerleaders and official team mascot. The team band and student section also bring a lot of enthusiasm to the pregame ceremonies and throughout the contest. Through an impressive light show, the town's starting five make their way courtside to an applauding crowd that has it pretty good when it comes to high school basketball in Indiana.
Connersville is a small town of 13,500 people in Fayette County. There are some great local establishments to try when in town and many are perfect if you are with the family. Kunkel's Drive In has been a city favorite since 1954 and has not changed that much in appearance either. Enjoy a pork tenderloin, burger, or coney underneath the retro, neon lights.
A newer establishment, Rip's Family BBQ might be a hidden gem in the area. They offer 5 different regional sauces including white Alabama sauce, along with a few interesting creations: pulled pork nachos and egg rolls, burritos, giant sandwiches, and rib and brisket dinner plates with sides.
Southern Family Dining is another area favorite specializing in southern fare including po'boy sandwiches, roast pork Manhattan's, walleye and catfish dinners. They also serve breakfast.
Lodging is limited in Connersville and the Woodridge Inn is a simple, honest motel to spend the night when in town. If you desire something more "posh," you will have to travel to either Richmond, Shelbyville, or New Castle.
The populace in Connersville are among the most passionate in the state. When the Spartans are on the road in sectionals or regionals, it's not uncommon for 2,000 fans to travel with the team to see them play. That kind of support can make a difference on the road, imagine when that is at or near capacity at the Spartan Bowl.
Connersville is located about 12 miles south off of I-70 (a little over an hour in between Indianapolis and Dayton, Ohio) on State Road 1. There is parking on the residential streets free of charge, but crowds for opening day can reach capacity inside the gym. For most games, parking is ample, but does require searching.
Once inside, the main concourse offers bathrooms, concession stands, and easy access to seats. It also should be noticed that there are tornado safety signs posted along the venue walls.
Tickets cost $5 per person and are in line with other high school basketball gymnasiums in Indiana. A great value for a simple night of basketball in an iconic facility that still looks sharp. Another interesting keepsake is the 1972 championship magazine sold for $5. A Spartan's game is a very affordable way to spend a day or night watching basketball with friends or the family.
The center court features a beautiful logo that lists the school's two state championships before class play.
The dangling sound barriers look as if they have been on the ceiling since the bowl opened in 1958; however, they were installed sometime around 2002.
There is a sort of satisfaction listening to the postgame or highlights of the Spartans game on local radio 106.9 FM/1580 AM WLPK. All home games are worth a listen as you drive through the small towns on SR 1 back to the interstate.
A final star is given to the girls basketball program that some consider the best in the state for game day atmosphere. Whether it's the boys or the girls playing basketball, the sport minded traveler should be in for a treat in Connersville.
Indiana is full of great old-fashioned and important gymnasiums that house high school basketball. Every small town seems to have one that is worth a visit from time to time. In the small town of Connersville, Spartan Bowl is worthy of a day trip to enjoy a day or night of basketball sometime during the season.
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2402 N. Park Road
Connersville, IN 47331
302 W 5TH
Connersville, IN 47331
203 1/2 Vine St
Connersville, IN 47331
319 W 30TH St
Connersville, IN 47331
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