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  • Writer's pictureMarc Viquez

John A. Baratto Athletic Center – East Chicago Central Cardinals


Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

John A. Baratto Athletic Center W. Columbus Dr. East Chicago, IN 46312



Year Opened: 1988

Capacity: 8,054

 

East Chicago Central Hoops


The John A. Baratto Athletic Center is the second-largest high school basketball gym on the planet. It remained at the two spot after a recount was conducted this past year of the largest gyms in the state that saw the New Castle Fieldhouse and Seymour’s Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium change positions from number one and three. However, after further review, it fell to number three after Seymour leapfrogged into second place.


The gym is named in honor of former Washington coach John Baratto who went 484-170, secured 15 sectional titles, 8 regional titles, 4 semi-state crowns, and the 1960 IHSAA basketball crown from 1944 to 1968. Twice he was named IHSAA Coach of the Year and was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1972.


Twenty years after his retirement, more than 9,000 people attended the dedication of the building that is named in his honor. The home of East Chicago’s Central High School Cardinals has a capacity of 8,054 people and debuted in 1988. The city’s two high schools Roosevelt and Washington had consolidated two years before the gym’s opening.


There have been a total of four state championship teams in East Chicago including Washington’s 1960 and 1971 and Roosevelt’s 1970 titles. The first state title for Central was the 2007 Class 4A State Championship over North Central (Indianapolis) 87-83. The Cards were led by current New Orleans Pelicans point guard E’Twaun Moore.


Food & Beverage 3

The JBAC has one of the largest concession stands in the state that is located in the outer concourse of the building. The selection is similar to other high school gyms and the usual hot dogs, nachos, chips, candy, and soda can be purchased for prices of $1 to $3. Central offers Coca-Cola products. Lines can get long during heavily attended games and the area also serves as a social space for many of the students at the game.


Atmosphere 4

The gym can hold 8,000 plus fans but for most of the games, the upper level is closed. The bottom portion became quite overcrowded that a section of seating upstairs was finally opened to fans during the first quarter of play. There is seating on all four sides of the court and foul lines are just a few inches away from fans in the bleachers.


The gym is impressive-looking even with a majority of its bleacher seats closed for home games. Multiple banners are hanging from the rafters of all of the school’s championship teams and a giant Cardinal logo is at the center court. Two small scoreboards are located in the corners of the lower portion of the gym.


One thing the building does well is honoring the history of high school sports. The outer concourse features trophy cases of various state championship team paraphernalia dating back almost 100 years. Banners, jackets, accolades, and programs are encased behind glass for visitors to look at. There is also the East Chicago Hall of Fame that honors former players including the 1948 Olympian and former NBA player Vince Boryla.


Neighborhood 3

The outside of the gym borders a residential neighborhood and the school’s equally impressive football stadium. East Chicago is a city of 29,000 residents and is located in The Region of Northwest Indiana just 24 miles from Chicago. It is home to ArcelorMittal’s Indiana Harbor Works, the largest steel mill in the country, U.S. Steel’s East Chicago Tin, and the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal complex


Indianapolis Avenue features various eateries, shops, and other commercial retail stores in town and the neighboring cities of Hammond and Munster. Bugatti’s Steak and Pasta is located along Lake Michigan and offers fine dining, the Cavalier Inn offers Polish cuisine in a relaxed setting, and Johnel’s Restaurant offers American fare, plus breakfast served all day and a bar in a diner setting. Saul’s Chicago Style Grill offers iconic Chicago-style hot dogs, gyros, and Italian beef and Millo’s Pizza Shack has deep-dish, stuffed, and thin-crust style pizzas on its menu.


Two of Indiana’s best breweries are located near East Chicago. Three Floyd’s Brewery & Pub is world-renowned for its beers and is worth a visit. The brewery gets very busy but they offer an eatery next door where one can enjoy a Gumballhead, Lazersnake, Zombie Dust, or Yum Yum on draft. 18th Street Brewery is located in Hammond and also offers a place to eat while you can order a Candi Crushable, Devil’s Cup, or the Best Patio Pils.


Fans 3

The fans are focused on the court, talk about the style of play and cheer for big offensive and defensive plays. There is a fraction of the audience enjoying a night out with friends but just like with any other well-rounded basketball gym in the state, the attention is usually on the game itself. When the opposing team’s fan base shows up in large masses, you have the proper ingredients for high school basketball.


Access 3

The gymnasium is located north of I-90 and west of Indiana 912. There are not any signs of the building and a GPS device is the best option to arrive at the game. There is plenty of parking in the lot outside the gym and street parking is also available when applicable. The seating bowl can become overcrowded during certain games against nearby rivals and with the majority of the seating not open, can become slightly cumbersome at times. However, bathrooms are located on the main concourse near the entrance of the building.


Return on Investment 4

The cost of a basketball game is $6 and is on par with other high school gyms in the state. The concession stand prices are also affordable–a nacho supreme costs the most at $3. There is also a table near the entrance to the seating bowl that offers t-shirts and sweaters at very reasonable prices.


Extras 3

The Baratto Center earns a point for its large concession area outside of the seating bowl. The gym earns a second point for the multiple trophy cases honoring Hall of Fame players and past championship-winning teams from football to basketball. The gym earns a final point for its championship banners hanging from the rafters.


Final Thoughts

The John A. Baratto Athletic Center may get overlooked with some of its larger size contemporaries in the state of Indiana. It offers all the necessities one would ever need at a high school gymnasium. Its location in the Chicagoland area provides visitors access to many options outside of the basketball game. It is worth a look when in the area for a game at a Hoosier Temple.


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

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