Muncie Fieldhouse - Muncie Central Bearcats
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Muncie Fieldhouse 525 N Walnut St. Muncie, IN 47305
Year Opened: 1928
Muncie Fieldhouse - An Indiana Classic
In November 2017 a tornado swept through Muncie, Indiana, and damaged the Muncie Fieldhouse in the process. The storm caused structural damage to the west side of the building and turned the gym’s flooring into a pool. The damage was serious and many thought that the historic venue would never host another high school basketball game.
The Muncie Central Bearcats basketball team had not begun their season at the time and were forced to play all home games at Northside Middle School, an arrangement that would last a full two seasons as the fieldhouse was under construction.
Finally, the Bearcats women and boys’ program returned to the 91-year-old basketball gym in November 2019. The basketball court is brand new, the old gym floor now serves as art on the concourse walls. A new main entrance was created and a fresh coat of paint was added to the building.
The improvements give the old gym a new ambiance but still retain the old-school charm that fans have been accustomed to for the past nine decades.
Basketball has been played at the Muncie Fieldhouse since its opening in 1928 and over the years has produced eight state boys’ basketball titles. It is among the oldest facilities in Indiana and is lush with history from its multiple championship banners, old wooden bleacher seating, and the memorabilia room that offers school history dating back to the 19th century.
Basketball was first played in 1901, but was not a hit, as ice polo was regarded as the school’s favorite sport. Basketball was not played between 1902-1904 and 1909-1911. However, the sport was gaining popularity on the high school level and after Muncie produced a strong 14-3 season and sectional victories in 1916, it became a favorite by the populace.
The team also had their first official home gymnasium Campbell’s Auditorium at the newly built high school. The Cats also utilized home dates at the Ball Gymnasium on the campus of Ball State Teacher’s College (today Ball State University). However, the capacity crowds created a public spirit that prevailed towards building a bigger, better and more modern facility. After the team captured its first state championship in 1928 it was clear that a new building was in need for the high school
The Public School Extension Division was created, construction costs were financed by local banks, and bonds were sold to citizens which would eventually be paid off as scheduled with the title being turned over to the school district less than 15 years later.
The fieldhouse was completed at a rapid pace and dedicated on December 7, 1928. The cost was $407,429.89. The seating capacity at the time of its opening was 7,600 and a sold-out crowd witnessed a Bearcat win over the Anderson Indians 35-24.
The building has been renovated on three occasions, one of which saw the capacity lowered to 6,600 people in 1983. Before the tornado damage, the last major renovations took place in 1988 when $1.5 million was spent to replace lighting, locker rooms, coaches offices, exit ramps, and modernize restrooms.
The Muncie Fieldhouse has served the community in many capacities since its inception. The facility has been home to circuses, boxing matches, dog shows, the sale of war bonds by Abbott and Costello, Harlem Globetrotter basketball, a Billy Graham Crusade, and concerts featuring legends from a wide variety of musical genres including Neil Diamond, Roy Rogers, and The Supremes.
Food & Beverage 3
There are two concession booths located in the main hallway on opposite sides of each other. The food selection is on par with other basketball fieldhouses in the state, but I would recommend grabbing a bite to eat from the various restaurants in town. Hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, and nachos are all offered at the concession booth. The prices are $1.50 for a hot dog to $2.50 for nachos. Pepsi products are sold for $2.
The walk up to the gymnasium sends a somewhat warm chill down the back of your spine. The venerable old building has a presence all its own to the first-time visitor and commands your attention. This is one of the definitions of high school basketball.
Visitors enter the building through the atrium that displays large photos above the doorways of state championship teams and the dedication to the game. The atrium also has two old-fashioned ticket booths, hallways to the upper deck, and signage. The interior main lobby wraps around the perimeter of the playing court and the walls display modern font, slight dismay, that directs patrons to the washroom, concession stands, hospitality room, exits and entrances, and the museum.
Once inside the court the majority of the silver-painted wooden bleacher-style seats are above the court and extend up toward the ceiling near the old SRO section that was once heavily populated. The crowds are thin near the top and there is enough legroom to sprawl out over two or three rows of seats. The view from the game is iconic at this level as hanging banners provide a somewhat obstructed view of the action on the wooden floor.
The atmosphere is similar to many other great basketball games in the state. There is the student section heckling opponents at the free-throw line, cheerleaders performing during breaks and intermissions, a mascot making his way through the stands, and a band busting out a collection of today’s popular hits. Then there are the eight state championship banners that wave majestically from the top of the ceiling which also include eight more from the volleyball team.
There are not many options to choose from within walking distance, but Muncie is a small town and your best choices for nightlife or dining would be downtown or near the shopping center to the north. The city is home to Ball State University and perhaps you could enjoy a game of college hoops at the Worthen Arena during your visit to town.
Downtown Muncie has changed a bit in the past few years and Elm Street Brewing located in a former ice house from 1999 is worth the visit for its food and decor, but they also serve craft beer.
A recommendation for lunch or dinner includes the pitmaster pie with Coca-Cola barbecue, smoked gouda, smoked chicken, house bacon, and brisket, or the Gonzo, a fried chicken breast top with spicy bacon jam, cheddar cheese, and egg on a homemade biscuit.
A few more places to grab a pint include The Guardian Brewing Company, New Corner, Twin Archer Brewpub, and Heorot Pub & Draught House. It might be wise to visit before the game if attending an evening game.
Amazing Joe’s, Savage Joe’s, and Sitara Indian Restaurants are other options in town. A cheap eat location is the B&K Drive-In which features car service and a menu that offers Spanish dogs, coneys, homemade root beer, and barbecue pork and brisket that is made on site. The pulled pork sandwich is $3.99 and is served on Texas toast.
The crowd is boisterous during a Bearcats game and if they are winning, the decibel levels only increase. This is a high school basketball town and history speaks for itself. There are also a lot of fans who have been attending games for close to 70 years.
They have great stories about the championship seasons of the 1950s, 1960s, and late 1970s. A few of them can be found in the fieldhouse museum and they do not mind sharing a few stories about what makes this facility so special.
Muncie is one of those towns that seems to have many different ways to enter the city. There is not a major interstate that goes directly into town, and the closest I-69 exit is about 12 miles away from the gym.
Access to the fieldhouse is a different story. It is quite easy to walk from the lower section to the upper section, along with access from the main lobby to the upper section. The walls are painted with bold letters directing patrons to bathrooms, hallways, and concession booths. The easy access is impressive due to the age of the building.
Return on Investment 4
The price of admission is $6 and that includes free parking and entrance to the Bearcat Museum which is chock-full of history from the school. Concession prices are also very low and who would not enjoy a night of basketball in a historic venue for under 10 bucks?
The Memorabilia Room is phenomenal and should be visited well before the basketball game begins. Yearbooks dating back to 1912, old championship banners, photos, trophies, musical notes, desks, chairs, pins, and random paraphernalia. Many other schools have a section dedicated to its history, but it is at a higher level here in Muncie.
The museum workers all seem to be alumni from Muncie Central and have quite a few stories to tell about the good old days. The memorabilia in the room have all been donated and could use an additional room to house it all for visitors.
The fieldhouse itself is a true legend. If the walls could talk, there would be a lot about the history of the program that began winning championships in 1928. The building might even feel a little aching from the wear and tear of the old fieldhouse, and it would smile after every Bearcat victory.
There is a lot of history in the building and it begins with the multiple championship banners hanging from the ceiling, large team photographs hanging on the walls in the atrium, and other areas that harken back to another time of basketball in the state.
There is a copious amount of history inside the Muncie Fieldhouse. It is one of the oldest venues still hosting high school hoops and is home to nine state basketball championships, nine state finalists, and eight volleyball state championships. It is a facility that still operates in the same manner as it has for close to 90 years of operation.