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  • Writer's pictureMarc Viquez

Emerson Gym Hosts Throwback Game in Mitchell Indiana

Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey

The Mitchell High School Bluejackets have not played a basketball game at the Emerson Gym since the 1997-1998 academic year when its current home was unavailable but this past Saturday afternoon both the junior varsity and varsity boys teams played a throwback game to commemorate the Blue Jackets 80th anniversary of its state finals team.

Emerson Gym was built in 1927 and used regularly until 1979 with a capacity of 3,000 that featured seating on all three levels of the building. It also featured a gym on the east side that has now been walled off.  The gym had replaced the school’s much smaller venue that was constructed in 1916. Balcony seating ran along the north and south sides of the gym and the west end but has since been removed.

The gym would also rotate as the home of the sectional with Bedford from 1929 to 1941, during that time the Jackets would win six sectional championships. However, in 1940 the team would make its way to the state finals at the Butler Fieldhouse, losing to Hammon Tech 33-21 in the title game. None of the players from that 1940 are still alive but family members were in attendance to honor what many in town say was the greatest team in school history.

The Bluejackets teams wore throwback uniforms along with the cheerleaders decked out in 1940 garb. The players' warm-ups were designed with the wording Cement City in the script, a nod to the Lehigh Cement Company that’s in town. The opposing players and cheerleaders were in their current uniforms.

The two grandstands were at near capacity and the noise leveled boomed based on the tight quarters in the old gym. The band huddled in one-quarter while the cheerleaders stood close by. Fans attending the game were waiting outside during brisk winter weather as they entered the lobby that featured a small concession stand, trophy case, and ticket booth. 

The first thing the modern basketball fan realizes is just how small the venue was but folks who could remember the good old days would tell you that the place was packed on many a night and the heat generated by the crowd could warm anybody up on a cold night.  Then again, how great is it that for one day fans of the 21st century get a trip back in time with a gym experience they have only seen in old black-and-white photographs?

“It’s just Indiana basketball, everybody would love to play in a gym like that,” Mitchell head coach Doug Thomas told the Times-Mail before the game. “Modern gyms are awesome but there’s just something about having that ‘Hoosiers’ feel from back in the ’40s and’ ’50s.

For anybody who played basketball growing up and had heroes who played during that era, it just brings back memories. It almost transports you back to a time when you were younger and everything was simple and fun.”

Indeed it was a lot of fun and one of two throwback games at old gyms that also took place an hour away in Jasper who were playing an afternoon tilt at Cabby O’Neill Gym that was built in 1939. It is also not the first year that an Indiana high school team played in a historic gym: Franklin returned to the Vandiver Gymnasium a week before, and Morocco played at its historic gym for the first time in more than 50 years in 2018.

Perhaps it is a sign that communities in the state will see more of these types of games in the preceding years. The games are highly attended, former players are honored, teams don throwback attire, and the community comes together all under the guidance of high school basketball. 

Max Ramey played for the Jackets and graduated in 1956 before playing basketball at the University of Tennessee. He is quoted in the book Historic Hoosier Gyms: Discovering Bygone Basketball Landmarks that the college facilities failed in comparison to the Emerson Gym.

“That place is special to a lot of people. But what made it such a nice place with all the people that filled it up? Those people yelling and the referees from the front row–that’s what made it fun.” 

It was a lot of fun hearing the roar of the crowd from both the home and visiting sides, being on top of the court, and getting a glimpse of what a game might have been like so many years ago. For one day that was the case and perhaps it will be again now and then in Mitchell.


Follow all of Marc’s stadium journeys on Twitter @ballparkhunterand his YouTube channel. Email at

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