Wigwam now just a memory
story by: Rob Hunt, Anderson Herald Bulletin, Sports Reporter
photos by: John P Cleary, Anderson Herald Bulletin, Photographer
I must admit to having very limited memories of Anderson’s Wigwam, having been there for one day and watching 2 games almost 35 years ago. Even though the historic gymnasium was open for the first 17 years of my now 30 years as an Anderson resident, I never returned. The requirements and demands of my previous career often prevented such an excursion on my part and the facility was closed just as my oldest child was just starting her high school life.
My recollection of that 1987-night Anderson have begun to fade with time. I was a student at Jay County High School in Portland, where basketball was worshiped in much the same way as it always has been in Anderson, but without the extensive tradition of excellence. But that year, the Patriots won their sectional and I—along with a few friends—got tickets for the rare opportunity to attend a regional at the world-famous Wigwam.
Our school was joined that night by Carmel, Kokomo, and Madison Heights for the regional twin bill and we knew that realistically, there was little chance of a Jay County win.
I don’t remember the specifics of the game, other than the Patriots were never really competitive that night against the Greyhounds.
What I do remember was the atmosphere. And with fan bases like those, how could the atmosphere not be pure electricity?
It was the closest this small-town kid had ever been to being in one of the college arenas that I had seen on television. Fans were packed to the rafters that night, over 8,000 people munching on popcorn in between screams of support for their teams. Even though our team was eliminated in the opener, we stayed for both games to drink in the atmosphere. Not only was the atmosphere at the college level, but the talent was also as well as we watched Madison Heights knock off the Wildkats in game 2.
Now, flash forward to today and much has changed on the high school landscape.
The Wigwam hosted its last high school basketball game in February 2011 and was voted to be closed shortly thereafter.
The building is still there, now a complex that includes the Jane Pauley Community Health Center. BWI Contractors, the lead company in the Wigwam Project, has raised optimism in the past that sports could return to the vaunted cathedral of Indiana basketball. But those updates have slowed to a trickle, with nothing substantive having rolled in for over 2 years now.
There were hopes that Anderson could play a few big games there per year, it would be an ideal neutral regional or semi state site, or perhaps the Wigwam could host large local events like graduations or county wrestling, volleyball, or basketball tournaments.
But those hopes are fading.
Fans are not attending basketball games the way they used to. While many of the largest gyms in the state are still in use, few are filled to capacity anymore. I’ve covered games at the New Castle Fieldhouse and on those occasions, that palace has been rarely more than half-full.
Whether Anderson residents want to admit it or not, there is no longer a need to have a gym that can hold over 9,000 fans for regular season high school basketball games.
Everyone you speak with in Anderson of a certain age has memories of the Wigwam that they cherish, usually of a big city-rivalry game or a memorable postseason battle.
Like my one visit to the venerable chapel of hoops, that’s exactly where the Wigwam will likely remain.
In our memories.
Owners Note: This story could not have been completed without the cooperation of Scott Underwood, Richard Sitler and the Anderson Herald Bulletin! Thank you!!