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  • Marc Viquez

Jack Butcher Sports Arena – Loogootee High School Lions



Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.57

Dodger Stadium 1000 Vin Scully Ave Los Angeles, CA 90012

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Year Opened: 1962 Capacity: 56,000

 

The Lions Roar at Jack Butcher Sports Arena

When you enter the small town of Loogootee, Indiana you will more than likely spot the giant water tower that honors its former high school basketball coach Jack Butch. During his 45 years as head coach, he would amass a then-record 806 victories at the time of his retirement in 2002. The water tower sign would remind visitors to town about his accomplishments.


Butcher held the title for almost 17 years until Bloomington South High School’s J.R. Holmes captured his 807th victory and eclipsed his record on February 22, 2019. Butcher was there to pass the torch to Holmes, but during his time as head coach, he put the tiny school on the map.


Butcher was a 1951 graduate of Loogootee High School and went on to star at Memphis State, leading the Tigers to the 1957 NIT Championship Game before turning down an offer to play for the Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics in favor of a chance to coach at his alma mater. He would keep the job as the basketball coach for the next 45 years.


He would lead the Lions to a then-record 806 victories, 30 sectional, 10 regional, and 4 semi-state championships, plus state finalists in 1975 (the last class-A-sized school to reach single-class state championship game) before retiring after the 2001/02 season.


The basketball gymnasium at Loogootee High School was named after Jack Butcher and is also known as The Lion’s Den by the local populace. The building has a capacity of 4,571 and is the largest in Class 1 A, placing it as the 40th biggest building in the state but would easily be the largest in many other states.


The arena was dedicated on Friday, November 8, 1968, in a game against Blue Chip Conference rivals Shoal Flat Rox. Almost 50 years later, the Lions have only had 4 losing basketball seasons. It is also the last of the Ralph Legeman-style gymnasiums that were popular in the area from 1949-1968.





Food & Beverage 3

The usual array of high school snacks is available at the JBA including pizza slices, nachos, hot dogs, candy, and soda pop. Bags of popcorn sell for almost a steal at just .50 cents per bag and Orange Leaf frozen yogurt is available at $3 in four varieties including birthday cake and salted caramel. Like with most high school gyms the quality of food is for snacking and if you are really hungry it might be wise to eat before attending a Lions game.


Atmosphere 4

The parking lot of the school was at capacity with cars parked along the open grass field between the gym and the baseball and softball fields. All was quiet outside 10 minutes after tip-off with a small gathering of people making their way to the school’s main entrance.


Once inside the noise began to blossom and as you crept closer to the ticket table, the roar of the fans blasted through the small two-door entrance like a wildfire in a forest. The stands were at around 90% capacity and all around the gym evidence of the gym and the school’s past glory.


The sunken gym features a bench seating eleven rows deep, some appear to be the original wood that was installed over 50 years ago, the time has created a distinctive smell that adds to the aurora of the facility. The main concourse wraps around the upper portion of the gymnasium providing great views from an SRO perspective.


Interestingly, the gym’s walls are decorated with painted pictures of championship seasons including the 1970 team that was Final Four participants, the 1975 and 2005 teams that were state finalists, and the 2012 team that brought home the school’s first State Championship.


In July of 2019, the gym renovated its court complete with a new center logo that replaced the iconic lion character with a stylized L logo. The new-look floor also added the school colors of black and gold to give it a fresh and modern look.


The arena stands among some of the great southern Indiana gyms in nearby Jasper, Huntingburg, and Washington. The best crowds of the season are at the first game of the year and both sectional and regional tournament games. You can expect capacity or near-capacity crowds that provide insight into Hoosier Hysteria.


Fans 4

The small school with the big gym and the winning records has been dazzling fans for many years, the last 50-plus years at the JBA. Crowds do not usually sell out the arena for regular-season games, but can fill the place up near 50% capacity. Contests against heated rival Barr-Reeve are usually heavily attended and there are more than enough fans who can talk your ear off about Lions basketball.


Neighborhood 3

The town of Loogootee features a population of 2,708 people; the school itself has an enrollment of only 284 students. The town is accessible by US-231, US-50, and US-150 and is accessible off the recently completed I-69 from Evansville (73 miles) and Indianapolis (99 miles).


There are two restaurants that locals suggest: Stoll’s Lakeview Restaurant and The Lodge. The two local establishments offer scratch-made food in rustic, scenic settings in town. The Lodge prides itself on serving the best-fried chicken in the area but also has steaks, pork chops, chicken parmesan, and fried shrimp on its menu for very reasonable prices.


Stoll’s is an Amish restaurant that overlooks West Boggs Lake offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets that depending on the day cost anywhere from $9.89 to $14.49. There are also daily specials served for lunch and dinner.


Dairy Master is an old-school ice cream joint offering great cheap eats, including a giant tenderloin that covers the Styrofoam plate that it’s served on.


Access 3

Loogootee is located 2 hours south of Indianapolis and an hour north of Evansville on SR-231. The school is easy to find once you cross into town and see the signs for the school. Once inside, the sunken gym feature allows fans access to the main concourse to walk around freely but can become crowded during heavily attended sectional and regional games.


Return on Investment 4

Ticket prices are $5 and they come with one of the better programs in the state that are loaded with the boy's and girls' history season by season with player profiles, records, and championship information. It helped out a lot with this review.


Extras 4

One star for the renovated basketball court during the summer of 2019. The new flooring gives The Den a fresh new look with the addition of the school colors of black and gold.


Another star for the game day program that is one of the better publications at an Indiana high school gymnasium. The program is packed with historical information, player profiles, records, and photos of past teams. It is not your typical heavily laced program with advertisements.

A third star for the water tower that hovers above the town and is scripted with Jack Butcher’s record amount of wins for an Indiana High School Coach. The Loogootee native has cemented his legend in this part of the state and beyond.


The fourth star is for the painted designs of past championships on the arena’s walls. Many gyms hang banners (always a plus) or generic posters shaped like the state of Indiana. However, the painted wall designs give the place a nice dose of regional aesthetics.


Final Thoughts

They say that basketball in the southwest part of the state is much different than in other parts of Indiana. Based on my experience, there is something much different and a game at the Jack Butcher Sports Arena is a fine example. The program's winning tradition, large gymnasium, and friendly staff make it a must on anyone’s wish list of basketball venues in the state of Indiana. The small town of Loogootee stands out at the JBA.


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Follow all of Marc’s stadium journeys on Twitter @ballparkhunter and his YouTube channel. Email at marc@stadiumjourney.com





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