Last month it was in the news that the NCAA was “in talks” to host its entire men’s basketball tournament in Indianapolis. Of course, it’s a city with plenty of facilities that could be used, a city that is accustomed to hosting events of that caliber, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s also home to NCAA headquarters.
That got some people thinking — what if you took the tournament and spread it around the state, hosting games in high school gyms? After all, Indiana is home to 11 of the 12 largest high school gyms in the country according to (checks notes) Wikipedia, so it’d certainly be doable.
I decided to take that thought and draw it out, actually going to the trouble to put together a list of potential venues to match the typical NCAA Tournament format of four regionals consisting of three arenas — two of which host the first and second rounds and one of which hosts the sweet sixteen and elite eight — as well as separate arenas to host the First Four and Final Four.
This, of course, isn’t just a list of the largest gyms in the state because that’d be a disservice to The Culture, in my opinion. I’ve tried to mix in gyms from around the state that have historical significance or are just cool places to watch a game regardless of size.
That endeavor has led me to the list below:
Springs Valley High School Gymnasium — French Lick
Yes, Springs Valley is the alma mater of Larry Bird. The gym does feature some Bird-related memorabilia which is cool, but it’s also a cool gym without that stuff. The sunken-floor style is a personal favorite, and though it isn’t overly large with a capacity of 2,700, it’s a fitting place to start this list.
Tiernan Center — Richmond
The first of our first- and second-round venues, the Tiernan Center looks more like a small college arena than a high-school one and for a time it did host college hoops. The IU East Red Wolves, an NAIA team, played their home games there years ago. Opened in 1984, this gym has a capacity of 7,786, making it the fourth-largest high school basketball arena in the country.
Bill Green Arena — Marion
Bill Green Arena is home to one of the most historically successful basketball programs in the state. The Marion Giants have 70 sectional titles, 39 regional titles, 15 semi-state titles and eight state championships. The last three of those figures are either tied for the highest all-time or are the highest outright. That’s obviously a lot of banners, and Bill Green Arena is big enough to hold them all with a capacity of 7,560, making it the sixth-largest high school arena in the country. There’s also a bit of recent history in the venue as well, as Marion has some famous alumni like Zach Randolph and James Blackmon Jr. who have gone on to play professionally.
New Castle Fieldhouse — New Castle
For a long time, New Castle Fieldhouse was claimed to be the largest high school arena in the country with a capacity of more than 9,000 people. Turns out that was a bit overblown, as in the last few years the Indiana High School Basketball Historical Society discovered through some research including on-site counts that it’s actually the third-largest with a real seating capacity of 7,829. Even though it isn’t the biggest gym, it’s still one of the best in the state and definitely deserving of Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games in this tournament.
Huntingburg Memorial Gymnasium — Huntingburg
This one holds a bit nostalgic significance for me, as I attended regional games here Back In The Day when my Eastern Greene Thunderbirds were really good. Because of that, I can also personally attest that it’s a great place to watch a game. It’s a big ol’ sunken-floor gym that holds 6,092 people, just barely smaller than Huntingburg’s 2018 population of 6,124. Also, fun tidbit, the gym is 69 years old. Nice!
Jasper High School Gymnasium — Jasper
As one of the biggest cities in southern Indiana, it figures that Jasper has one of the nicest gyms in the region. The Jasper Wildcats’ current home was constructed in 2012 and 2013 after their previous gym’s roof collapsed in 2011, making it one of the newer venues on this list. It has two tiers of seating, holds 4,800 people and came with a $12 million price tag.
The Hatchet House — Washington
This place feels more like a cathedral or a colosseum than a gym. When you’re on the court, the ceiling seems to tower about 1,000 feet above you and seat after seat after seat surrounds you — there are 7,090 of them to be exact. The Hatchet House is another venue that’s been around awhile. It opened in 1966 and has plenty of history. The most recent and most famous chunks of that history are intertwined with the name Zeller, as each of those brothers — Luke, Tyler and Cody — played here when they were in high school.
Columbus Memorial Gymnasium — Columbus
There are plenty of old gyms on this list, but this might be the oldest. This venue opened in 1954, helping get sectional and regional games back in Columbus for the first time in decades. It holds 6,547 people and currently houses the Columbus North Bulldogs.
Jack Butcher Arena — Loogootee
This is one of my personal favorites. It was opened in 1968, but looks a bit newer thanks to a recent refresh. The capacity is 4,571 people and it typically hosts sectional and regional play for either basketball or volleyball.
Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium — Seymour
This gym recently became The Big One, as it surpassed New Castle Fieldhouse to become the largest high school gym in the country when the capacity figures were double-checked. The official capacity is 8,228, making this gym a great one for hosting big-time events like a 4A boys’ basketball regional and semi-state games. It also, coincidentally, makes this a good place to peg as a potential Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight site.
The Anderson Wigwam — Anderson
Listen, I don’t care how long this joint’s been closed or what it’s being used as right now. We’re moving some stuff around and setting it up to host NCAA Tournament games in this particular flight of fancy. When it was built, it was one of the nicest gyms in the state and supposedly, at its peak, it would fill up with crowds of nearly 9,000 people.
Everett N. Case Arena — Frankfort
Case Arena is home to perhaps the coolest mascot in the state, as the Frankfort Hot Dogs play their home games there. The dome gives this place some pretty solid small-school college vibes and it holds 5,509 people. Also, the movie “Blue Chips” was filmed here.
Southport Fieldhouse — Southport
The Southport Fieldhouse just cracks the list of the largest high school gyms in the country, coming in at No. 12 (No. 11 in Indiana) with a capacity of 7,124. It’s got a similar aesthetic to the New Castle Fieldhouse, making it another good choice to host later round games.
Hinkle Fieldhouse — Indianapolis
Where else would this tournament end? Hinkle Fieldhouse is, without a doubt, the best and biggest high school arena in the state. The place just has that vibe.