By Pete Zamplas
The new year and decade marks transitions, including the end of an era as Hendersonville High School’s historic auxiliary stone gym is due to be torn down this summer.
That is part of extensive campus renovations. First, weather permitting, the cafeteria and band room are to be taken down this month. The gallant Stillwell classroom building with its auditorium will be renovated, and a new classroom building will be built.
The historic gym has had basketball games since at least 1938, and for about 40 years. Construction on it reportedly was as a $34,000 federal Work Program of America (WPA) project in the Great Depression. Local historian Tom Orr notes the gym was built in 1936 and formally dedicated Aug. 17, 1937 — 11 years after dedication of the school itself in 1926.
The newer Jim Pardue Gymnasium went up in 1976, the nation’s centennial year. It will be renovated, and remain the main gym as a cost-saving measure instead of building a new one.
A new secondary gym will be constructed. It will take the place of the old gym, which is used for wrestling meets and for volleyball practice.
Wrestling matches have gone there, on while hoops was played in the main gym. That was the case when The Tribune dropped by recently.
“The Dungeon” is what the dim-lit dingy basement-level annex has long been called with its weight room, football locker room and offices still in use. At one time, a simple shower pipe protruded out of the wall.
The old gym’s grey granite exterior is unique from modern architecture, casting a stone age gladiator-like aura on HHS athletics. Football players charge out of there on game nights, down initial stairs to turn left then head down stadium stairs to Dietz Field.
These are reminders that the old structure has remained a part of HHS athletic lore. Its nicknames included the “Match Box,” since it was small and very noisy and intimidating to visiting squads.
The gym was for years deemed the largest indoor basketball court in WNC, and site of tourneys. It was also where HHS junior-senior proms were held. A stage was at one end.
This extensive heritage was celebrated on Saturday, Nov. 16 with a farewell dedication to this “auxiliary gym.” On that day, inside the gym was a display of several posters of team photos and snapshots of action on the court through decades.
The first HHS basketball state title team was in 1948. The starting five are in a photo in the exhibit. They include Boyce “Blondie” Whitmire, Clemson-bound John McGraw, Ed Morgan, and Tommy McCullough. Ted Carter coached title squads in 1949 and ’52. George “Yogi” Poteet, a 6-foot-1 guard, starred for HHS in ‘57-58 then played for UNC.
Jim Pardue won a state title in 1971-72, with Harold Albany as the leading scorer and playing in the old gym.
Whitmire, Ray Morgan, Chris Ferguson and current principal Bobby Wilkins are among those who spoke to about 100 people jammed into the old gym. A few former players took basketball shots. Ferguson, Class of ’75, went on to coach basketball at the University of Tennessee.
Wilkins later told the Tribune the gathering was “great because all the people that showed up could look at the pictures which brought back many, many memories. They stood around and reminisced, told old stories, and just went back to the good ole days of the old gym and what it meant to them.”
Wilkins has many personal memories of team triumphs. He coached the boys team to its latest state hoops titles, in 1986-87 then ‘91-92. He starred as a Bearcat basketball player. The tall former center scored 27 points as a senior in 1975, in the farewell game in the old gym.
“It’s loud in here!,” he said while wrestlers were practicing just ahead of a recent meet and voices echoed loudly. Squeaking of sneakers on the freshly-waxed surface and bouncing of the ball off the floor, rim or backboard were all also extra loud.
“The old gym has a floor that’s great,” Wilkins said. “It flexes with the weight of bodies on it. It’s still in excellent shape.”
The seating capacity is 750 in the old gym, and about 1,100 in the newer Pardue Gym.
Some recall when Lady Bearcats played six-on-six hoops with two rovers the only ones allowed to cross mid-court and others restricted to half-court play.
Bradley Jones played varsity basketball as a 6-foot-2 junior. The current Entegra Bank local vice-president was a senior student when HHS won a state title under Coach Wilkins in ‘87. He also has many fond memories, for the Bearcat legacy through decades.
Kaye Youngblood coached HHS to multiple state volleyball titles. She is a 2019 HHS Hall of Fame inductee, a 1980 grad, and taught social studies in the school for 26 years. She recently succeeded Orr, also a retired HHS teacher and student alumnus, as head of the Walk of Fame committee. The group recognizes people who have made immense local impact in various fields.
Youngblood traced the WPA project history behind the gym. She also noted that WHKP Pres.-G.M. Art Cooley (HHS ’52) as a student was the game announcer.
Tom Orr’s father Rick Orr captained the 1931 basketball team, which played in the wooden “Barn” that preceded the granite gym.
He said what he said for the Pardue Gym dedication hold true today, that “We believe that Education gives wing to dreams and might to brawn and brain.”