High school boys basketball: 'The Cave' is Indiana's oldest HS gym still in use
The old-timers in Mishawaka, though, they don’t.
It has gone through renovations in 1959 and 1984; the court was turned from an east-west configuration to north-south in ‘59; but the basic framework of the gym has endured for almost 90 years.
“It was like playing in a swimming pool,” is the way Dick Freeman describes the old digs.
Freeman scored 236 points as a senior in 1948-49, when the Cavemen finished 15-6.
On one sideline, there were a few rows of bleachers behind the officials table. The other three sides were shut in by walls just a few feet from the end of the playing floor.
It really did look like a Cave.
Those walls extended up about 20 feet. High above the playing surface was seating for about 1,800 fans.
“Every time I go to a game (now) and hear the pep band play the school song, I remember the pep band sitting right above our dressing room,” said Freeman, 81. “I hear that fight song, and I still get goose bumps.”
Those close-set walls and cramped quarters made for an intimidating environment.
“I talked with the guys from (South Bend) Central; Jack Morrical, (Entee) Shine,” Freeman said. “They hated playing at Mishawaka.
“We were always told (by coaches) that nobody was ever supposed to get an uncontested lay-in against us.”
In other words, if an opponent dared to drive the lane, he was going to meet the wall. Freeman said that a slab of two-inch padding under each basket came late in his career.
A full-speed collision would still hurt — pad or no pad.
“Playing at Mishawaka was like the gladiators (in the coliseum) against the lions,” recalled Jim Powers, who played and coached for Central in that era. “It was a great atmosphere for basketball.”
“I can’t ever remember playing a game there that the place wasn’t full,” Freeman said. “The fans were great. If we were playing Central on Friday night and you didn’t have your ticket by Monday morning, you didn’t see the ballgame.”
Those full houses generated plenty of energy in that arena. And, also, plenty of heat.
“When the place got full on game nights, it got really hot,” Freeman said. “Two or three passes through the lay-up line and you were already sweating.