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  • Writer's pictureMarc Viquez

William S. Johnson Arena – Jeffersonville Red Devils

Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14

William S. Johnson Arena 1416 Spring St. Jeffersonville, IN 47130

Year Opened: 1972

Capacity: 5,306


The Home to High School Hoops in Jeffersonville

Jeffersonville High School basketball began in 1906, and in little over a century, the program has won 1,649 games, 34 sectional titles, 16 regional championships, six semi-states, and one state title. The list also includes 12 members of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and 11 Indiana All-Stars.

One of those Hall of Famers is William Johnson, whom the building is named after, who served as the team captain for two seasons and led the Devils to 31 consecutive victories heading into the 1935 State Championship. However, mysterious circumstances on that final day of the tournament in which the Devils played three games without their head coach Hunk Francis who was found “in a stupor” in a taxi cab by his players that morning. He was incapacitated during the team’s final day of play.

Devils head coach Janis “Hunk” Francis was found in a stupor in a taxi cab by his players as they were about to head to the Butler (now Hinkle) Fieldhouse. Johnson took over as player-coach, and Francis had to be propped up on the bench throughout the first two games. The Devils won the first two games but fell to Anderson High School in the championship game 23-16.

Francis claimed that he was doped the night before and that it might have involved some prominent Jefferson people. Many people thought he was drunk, but his effects did not wear off by the championship game that night, and it was reported that his condition didn’t get better until two days later. Francis resigned a week later.

Was Francis drugged after he left the team dinner Friday evening? The number one theory is that gamblers wanted to prevent Jeffersonville from winning; allegedly, odds were 12 to 7 against the Devils winning against the favored Anderson team.

Players seldom talked about the mystery surrounding the 1935 championship game, and with all the members now deceased, it is now part of Hoosier High School lore. The Devils would not make it back to the title game until 1974, and it would not be until 1993 that they broke their jinx and captured the school’s lone basketball state title at the Hoosier Dome.

Food & Beverage 3

The main concession stand is located in the main lobby of the building offering many items found at other gyms. Fans can purchase a hot dog, chili and cheese hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, and a dish they call Devil nachos for the prices of $1.50 and $2.50. Guests can wash it all down with a bottle of Coca-Cola or Sweet Tea.

Atmosphere 3

The gymnasium debuted in 1972 and was renamed in honor of Johnson seven years later. It originally had a capacity of 5,306–one of 31 gyms in the state that seat 5,000 or more–but was trimmed down to around 4,800 after recent renovations that included the WJHI radio station in the upper level.

The seating sections are broken into an upper and lower level, with wood on top and red plastic seats on the bottom; the top level offers a wraparound concourse for easy movement and a few nice vantage points from behind the net on both sides. The Red Devil theme is evident from a fire design foul line, a giant J-tailed logo at the center court, and four state championship banners hanging from the rafters in one corner of the gym.

The main lobby is large enough to offer a trophy room, ticket offices, a concession stand, and four glass cylinders that display the school’s four state championship titles. There is even a button that plays the final 39 seconds of the 1993 state championship basketball team’s radio broadcast, a very nice touch.

One game worth checking out is against New Albany. The heated rivalry dates back to 1909 and a packed gym is expected when the Bulldogs come to town. The game takes on a college feel with a bolstered student section and pre-game ceremonies that are passionate and engraved in the hearts of many in town. The Jeffersonville/New Albany rivalry is at 160 games as of this writing.

Neighborhood 4

Jeffersonville is located across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, but offers enough dining and entertainment that might keep you in Indiana. Main Street borders the Ohio River and is home to the Big Four Bridge, which is a pedestrian-only crossing that offers a spectacular view of the Louisville skyline and the many barges that pass underneath. Some markers detail the history of the bridge that was first constructed in 1895.

Downtown Jeffersonville features shops and restaurants, infused with local traditions and buildings that have been repurposed. Pearl St. Taphouse, Big Four Burgers & Beer, and The Barrelhouse on Market are three top choices. If you are looking for more wallet-friendly places, visit Orange Clover Kitchen or Ann’s By the River. Pearl St. Game & Coffee House pours some of the best coffee in the area, it is ridiculously smooth.

Howard Steamboat Museum & Mansion is a great way to spend an hour or two, or one can simply cross the river into Louisville and explore other great museums, fine restaurants, and plenty of bourbon distilleries and craft breweries. A few miles down the interstate in New Albany is one of the area’s best breweries. The New Albanian Brewing Company Pizzeria & Public House is both a great place for locally brewed beers and homemade pizza.

Fans 3

The Red Devils fans have a long history with their basketball and rivalry games against nearby New Albany High School would be the game you would want to attend during the season. The fan base does its best rooting for their hometown team and when you are in this part of the state, basketball roots run a little deeper.

Access 3

Johnson Arena is a nice-sized facility that is extremely easy to get around. There is plenty of parking located outside of the main entrance and it’s located only a few miles from the I-265. However, one should use their GPS when traveling by car. There are bathrooms on both levels of the facility and seats and exits are marked for fans inside the main gym.

Return on Investment 4

The Johnson Arena is your typical basketball gym from the 1970s and when it is filled, one begins to understand the term Hoosier Hysteria. Ticket prices are $6 and concession prices are less than $2.50. The main lobby offers a nice collection of basketball traditions and plenty of accolades from the various school sports teams. Visitors also get to enjoy some quality time along Main Street in downtown Jeffersonville. It’s a very charming city that is nice to visit during the basketball season, but perhaps more appealing during the warmer months of the year.

Extras 2

The Johnson Arena receives a point for the interactive display of the 1993 state championship team. Fans can press a button to hear the final 39 seconds of the radio broadcast from that magical season that resulted in the school’s first state championship after several finishes as runner-up.

The Johnson Arena receives its last point for being located in a very pretty town that offers a lot to do before and after the game. The Main Street area has great restaurants and places to grab a drink and you can also take a nice walk across the Ohio River into Louisville if that strikes your fancy. The Big Four Bridge is also a nice attraction that is a perfect way to get a little walk on a warm day.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to enjoy about watching a basketball game at the William Johnson Arena including easy access off the interstate, a charming Main Street, proximity to Louisville, and affordable concession prices. There is a lot of history on display, but easily could be more from a basketball program with over 100 years of operation and various seasons of winning basketball. If you are ever in the area, check to see if the Red Devils are playing a game at the Johnson Arena.

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