Kokomo Memorial Gym - Kokomo Wildkats
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86
Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium E Superior St Kokomo, IN 46901
Year Opened: 1949
The Kats Are Back!
Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium was dedicated on October 20, 1949, and was named in honor of the men and women from the town who lost their lives in World War II. The 7,200-seat physical education building was one of the largest in the world when it first opened, ushering a new era of bigger and better high school basketball gyms, but subsequent renovations have brought it down to its current capacity of around 5,200 people, ranking it as the 33rd largest high school gym in the world.
The home of the Kokomo High School Wildkats basketball programs cost $680,000 to build. It replaced the venerable Hawthorn Gymnasium that stood for 21 years before burning to the ground in the wee hours of March 22, 1944.
The team would find a temporary home at the Kokomo National Guard Armory for the next five seasons, while the town contemplated building a new facility. Basketball had always been a hot ticket in town and a new gym was constructed to convince state officials to host regional tournaments to raise revenue.
The opening of the modern and more spacious gymnasium gripped the town with a fever known as “Hoosier Hysteria.” Fans would line up overnight to purchase tickets. Standing room only was the only option for those without tickets, according to a former Wildkat who starred in the late 1950s.
He added that when he walked into practice on Saturday mornings, there would be lines of people in the frigid cold bundled up and waiting for the ticket window to open. Game nights would be packed and the Wildkats would build off that momentum earning three trips to the state Final 4 championships in 1959, 1961, and 1962. They won it all in 1961. The girls' team captured back-to-back state titles in 1992 and 1993 and a championship one in 2003
The Art Moderne architectural building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, complete with a memorial marker on the corner of Apperson and Superior Streets. It was designed by architect Elmer Dunlap who also helped design various schools, courthouses, and parks in Indiana that are now also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Food & Beverage 3
Two small concession stands look as if they have not changed since the gym opened. The items for sale include hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, pickles, candy, chips, and Coca-Cola products. On busy nights, the lines can get long and stretch through the lobby.
The play of junior center Flory Bindunga has attracted fans from all over the city to the historic gym this season. He is among the state’s leaders in block shocks, and the student cheer section has created a dunk meter for him, as he can average several a night. He has also been offered scholarships to 15 colleges and universities, with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo making an appearance the day before our review.
As a result, Kokomo has experienced unprecedented levels of noise, fan reaction, and excitement in decades. Some say it reminds them of the old days when fans would wait outside in the cold and the gym would be crammed to the rafters.
Memorial Gym is a small, cozy, and comfortable facility that is not your typical basketball gymnasium. It is packed with delightful colors, signage, banners, and other little nooks and crannies. Tickets are taken at the door from workers sitting down at tables at one of the four entrances to the building, conversations are brewing among friends young and old, and students line up to grab a bite to eat at the concession stands.
The bleacher seating is separated into two sections on the south side and into three sections on the opposite end. All upper-level sections are reachable by stairs and ramps directly from the lobby. On both ends are two more seating sections that are above the playing court and operate as balconies; one of these sections is populated by the band.
All of the seats, except the third level section, are pull-out bleachers. The sturdy wooden permanent seats on the third level are cornered off at the ends which makes for a little abnormality of seating style, but one that is welcomed.
All around the gymnasium are banners and signage that celebrate the multiple accomplishments of both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, highlighted by the 1961 boys' state championship and 1992, 1993, and 2003 girls' state championship banners.
At one end of the arena, it reads “Home of the Kats” on the wall, and Kats are spelled out in one of the upper sections of seats as well. A basic scoreboard hangs above the center court, while a few more pictures and photos add to the aesthetics of the building. The venue is one of only a handful to include a video board that was installed in 2019.
You’ll find a variety of chain restaurants and retail outlets on US-931 in Kokomo, which is not too far from the gymnasium. However, if you are looking for a few interesting sites to see or places to eat, then there are some local suggestions.
Harvey Hinklemeyers features great pizza and sandwiches and is also great for the kids. Half Moon Restaurant and Brewery is a great stop for a bite to eat or enjoy a craft beer after the game. Enjoy a giant tenderloin sandwich at Windmill Grill or Artie's Tenderloin.
A tenderloin sandwich is a giant breaded piece of pork that is deep-fried and big enough for two. Ray’s Drive-In is a funky little place that makes a killer beef Manhattan sandwich. Dan's Variety Bakery is a popular destination that opens at 1 AM featuring hot, freshly baked donuts.
There is a great abundance of fans who attend Kokomo High School games, but not like the good old days when they used to pack the house to the gills. However, enough fans are out here supporting their local basketball team to easily confirm that there is still a lot of love for the Wildkats in Kokomo. Fans are supportive, dedicated, and interested in the game at hand.
Arriving at the gymnasium is also fairly simple. There is plenty of signage directing visitors towards the historic facility with parking available on the streets or in one of the small lots outside of the gym.
Once inside the gym, the number of people will impact the accessibility during the game. There are points of the two main levels where walkability is easy, but there are sections where it ends due to seating arrangements. The outer hallways outside the seating bowl make it easy to move around, but it does not wrap around the building.
Bathrooms and concessions are located on the main floors of the outside lobby. Many of the signs posted appear to date back to the gym’s early years, providing a time portal for fans and visitors to the venue.
The one thing to keep in mind, at this time of writing, is that regular season games are near sell-outs many nights; it is advisable to arrive early for games to find parking on the streets or in the main lots near the gymnasium.
Return on Investment 5
Adult tickets are $6 for all home games which is on par with other high school games in the state. The parking is free, concession prices are extremely affordable, and it makes for a great night of high school basketball hoops in a historic and cozy basketball gymnasium. The level of play the Kats are playing around this time, including the number of people attending games, and providing the soundtrack, makes this one of the best nights out for sports in the state.
The exterior of the Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium is noteworthy for a few reasons. The historic building design features photos and headlines from when the team won the state title in 1961 above the main exterior entrance. There is also a bronze statue of a wildkat and a historical marker describing the facility.
The John Turner Memorial Room is located at the west end of the main lobby and was dedicated by his parents, Earl and Ellen Turner. Turner was an All-State basketball player who died during battle in World War II. The room features a portrait of Turner in uniform draped by two U.S. flags, while furniture from that era is set up behind a rope fence. On the opposite wall are three stained-glass windows listing every major battle of the war. Visitors walk through the area to look around and take photos, but no one is allowed to sit in the chairs or couches.
The school features a taxidermy wildkat encased behind a glass cube. It is wheeled out to center Court during warm-ups by a group of students and then wheeled back to the John Turner Memorial Room until it is ready for the next basketball game. The wildkat dates back to 1951.
The overall aesthetics of the gymnasium are pleasing to the eyes. The red and blue banners hang proudly from the rafters, the seats are also colored red and blue, and little touches on the walls make it a visually pleasing facility for the first-time visitor. It is a classic Indiana fieldhouse.
The video board hovers over the center court and features a four-sided video panel that displays ads, photos, scores, and other information. It is one of only a handful of gyms in the state that offers a video display board.
Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium is the perfect-sized facility for high school basketball in Indiana. It is dripping with nostalgia, brimming with history, and a wonderful place to watch basketball in the 21st century. If these walls could talk, they would have a lot to say about the history of basketball.