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  • Writer's pictureMarc Viquez

Gary West Side Gym – West Side Leadership Academy Cougars

Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86

Gary West Side Gym W 9th Ave & Gerry St. Gary, IN 46406

Year Opened: 1969

Capacity: 7,217


Gary’s West Side Cougar Den

Gary West Side High is nicknamed the Cougar Den and when it opened in 1969 it was recognized as the largest box gym in the world. It houses 7,216 seats and that season hosted its first regional game. Today, the gym seats 6,402 people due to water-damaged balcony bleachers on one side that were replaced with plastic molded seating.

The West Side Leadership Academy was founded in 1968 as West Side High School. When it opened it had an enrollment of 3,000 students, the largest high school in the state. Today, enrollment is 900 and the school is now a college preparatory high school that offers dual credit, and advanced placement courses.

Food & Beverage 3

A nice-sized concession stand is located in the main concourse area outside the gymnasium offering the basic standards of items found at other Indiana high schools. Fans can choose from hot dogs, popcorn, nachos, candy, and soda pop. The prices are reasonable and cost between $1 to $3 per item. The options make for a nice snack but if hungry, it is advised to visit somewhere else before or after the game.

Atmosphere 3

The gym offers seats on two levels of seating with the upper rows of bleachers accessible via staircases on each side. The bleacher seats pull in and out on the top level depending on the crowd and the event taking place at the school. There are two basic scoreboards on each wall of the gym.

The gym features life-sized photos of past championship teams and coaches that are displayed on one side of the wall along with championship banners. The PA announcer does a nice job getting the crowd into the game and the Cougar cheerleaders add to the soundtrack of the game with multiple cheers and dance routines.

Neighborhood 2

The ballpark suffers from being in a neighborhood where most visitors go out to venture after the game. The stadium is near the exit and entrance ramp to I-90 and most visitors will look elsewhere for after-game options in the neighboring cities or perhaps somewhere closer to Chicago.

Gary was the home to the 18th Street Brewery and Taproom which is regarded among the state’s craft beer and is now located a few miles down the road in Hammond. Also in the area in Munster, Three Floyds Brewpub is the state’s most recognizable craft brewery. The brewery and restaurant is a busy spot, but fans flock here for year-round selections of Alpha King, Yum Yum, Gumballhead, Jinx Proof, and Lazersnake.

Michael Jackson’s boyhood home is located at 2300 Jackson Street. Fans of the King of Pop can take photos of the old home and also, during daylight hours only, venture to Broadway to the closed Palace Theater that permanently displays the Jackson Five playing “tonite.”

Gary is near the Indiana Dunes National Park which offers trails for hiking and sandy beaches for cooling off during the summer. Michigan City Outlet Mall offers a few hours to search for deals, and Chicago is less than a half-hour away by car.

Fans 2

The crowd is energetic during the game and everyone is focused on the action on the court. After the game, a few fans talk about some of their favorite memories and how the crowds used to be only a few short seasons ago. Games against nearby rival Gary Roosevelt are the best bet to see the old-fashioned school spirit.

Access 4

The school is located two miles north of I-80 and the gym and school offer a large parking lot. The gym itself is situated in the back of the high school and the main road. The gymnasium offers a main concourse with a concession stand and bathrooms and fans will have easy access to moving around the gym.

Return on Investment 2

The ticket prices are $6 which is common with other gymnasiums in the counting. The concession prices are fairly inexpensive and the crowd is always up for a night of basketball. Gary is not far off the beaten path of other facilities in Chicago and nearby high school gyms in East Chicago and Michigan City, Indiana.

Extras 2

The gym has two old-fashioned ticket booths near the main entrance of the venue. The two ticket booths add a nice touch to the facility. The gym earns a second point for the wall art and murals in the outer concourse. There are also jerseys of former athletes from the school who made their way to the professional ranks.

Final Thoughts

The Cougar Den is in the top ten of high school basketball gyms and is worth a visit if you are in the vicinity. It does not stand out like other facilities in the area but its size and history are well worth a visit if you are a fan of Hoosier Temples.

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