Grayson Joslin is a second-year journalism major and writes for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
On a cold Saturday night in March 2017, I stood in line alongside others waiting to get inside a beige brick building. You would think it’s just an old, uninteresting building; however, it is the gym of my high school, New Castle High School. And on this day, it was the location of the high school basketball sectional championship game, and our hometown New Castle Trojans had a chance to win and continue our hopes for a state championship.
It was a spontaneous trip for me and my mom; this was only the second time I went to a Trojans basketball game. Luckily enough, we had home court advantage. Not only were we hosting the sectional, but we also called the largest high school gym in the world our home.
My mom and I were still standing outside when the national anthem played, and I could hear the roar of the crowd. I didn’t know what to expect when I walked through the doors to get to our seats, but what awaited me was something magical.
Almost every single seat in the fieldhouse — with a capacity of almost 9,000 — was filled as the game began. The crowd, cheering either for New Castle, our rival Connersville or there just for the love of the game, were loud and boisterous. One moment from that night still stands out; down the stretch, in a gritty game, the Trojan faithful stood up from their seats to cheer on our team. The Connersville fans, in a sea of red, responded the same.
In every corner from the New Castle Fieldhouse, people were cheering their heads off. It was so raucous you’d think you were at a rock concert.
That March night was the first time I got to experience the magic of Hoosier Hysteria in person, and it made me fall in love with the unique experience of high school basketball in the Hoosier state.
If there ever was a basketball town, it would be New Castle. Our fieldhouse is a cathedral to the pageantry and importance of the game of basketball to our town. The sheer size and magnitude of this gym would make you think it would be built for kings and queens to have their feasts or for Roman gladiators to fight to the death. Instead, the parquet floor is made for ordinary high school teenagers doing extraordinary things every Friday night during the frigid winter.
The construction of the Fieldhouse in the late 1950s, which officially seats 8,424 (previously, it sat 9,325), was not without merit; the Trojan basketball program is one of the most historic and legendary in our state. That status has only grown with time, with New Castle holding 60 sectional championships, 19 regional championships, four semi-state championships and two state championships to its name. Add to that two Mr. Basketball awards, a No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and a myriad of Indiana All-Stars, and it’s safe to say our legacy is cemented.
Up until the previous decade, New Castle was a part of the North Central Conference, which was known across the state as one of the best basketball conferences. At one time, six of the 12 largest high school gyms in the world were in the NCC: New Castle, Anderson, Richmond, Muncie Central, Marion and Lafayette Jefferson.
I learned about this long and illustrious history, as well as the unique experience of Indiana high school basketball, in fifth grade, when I checked out a book in my elementary school’s library about the sport in my state. I got to learn about how a snowstorm trapped fans in the Fieldhouse in 1961, how New Castle’s own Steve Alford chalked up 57 points inside Butler’s famed Hinkle Fieldhouse in 1983 and how Damon Bailey of Bedford North Lawrence became a statewide celebrity and closed out his high school career capturing the state title in front of 40,000 fans in the Hoosier Dome in 1990.
Just reading that book got me passionate about high school basketball and its history. I got a miniature Indiana Hoosiers basketball hoop — where our two Mr. Basketball award winners, Kent Benson and Steve Alford, went — and practiced shooting it in my bedroom.
With the wooden floor beneath me acting as the floor of our Fieldhouse, I imagined I was wearing the Kelly green and white of our Trojans, making the game-winning shot to win sectionals for our school.
I would never play basketball; I wasn’t athletic enough, but the passion and love that I had for this game and this town would not wither away and die. After managing the middle school football teams, my middle school physical education teacher — who was also the high school basketball coach — suggested I help manage the high school team.
I thought about it, and that sectional championship game in a packed Fieldhouse convinced me that I should go for it. Sure, I wouldn’t be playing, but I was closer to the action than ever before.
Every day before practice, the other managers and I would go down to the athletic director’s office to fill up the water bottles and get the towels; it was gritty, dirty work, but it was worth it. In those practices, I got to learn more about the psychology of basketball and what goes into the makings of a basketball team, and it made me appreciate the players of the team even more.
One of my favorite experiences was getting to go to other gyms and experience the traditions other schools have. On the bus rides to these away games, I would put on my headphones, listen to Oasis and look forward to the night ahead. From Hamilton Heights to Carmel and Rushville to Mississinewa, each high school gym was unique, yet every single one had the same magical aura that accompanies each and every high school game in Indiana.
But yet, there was no place like home. Being on the court in the Fieldhouse is a feeling unlike any other. Getting to walk down the stairs and out of the long green tunnel onto the floor is a privilege I was grateful to have. Being on the floor and walking out to the cheers of the Trojan faithful is a feeling more euphoric than being in the stands.
The team my freshman year turned out to be one of the best New Castle ever produced. Led by current Purdue forward Mason Gillis and current Ball State guard Luke Bumbalough, the 2017-18 Trojans became the first New Castle team to win the prestigious Hall of Fame Classic, and they also won the Hoosier Heritage Conference title undefeated en route to a 22-2 regular season record and a sectional championship.
However, the part of the season that will forever remain in my head is the two weeks following our sectional championship. On a bright Saturday morning, we headed out on a school bus to Marion High School for regionals. After winning against Angola in the morning, we spent the day in Marion before heading back to face the hometown Marion Giants.
This was personal; besides being former conference rivals, the last time New Castle was in regionals back in 2008, our season ended to Marion via a buzzer-beater in overtime. Now, a decade later, we met again in the regional championship on Marion’s home court.
And at the end of a back-and-forth classic, with a good chunk of the city of New Castle traveling down I-69 to see this game, New Castle came away with the regional championship. The joy on everyone's faces, from the players to the coaches to the fans, shows how much this meant to everyone in New Castle. In our town, it doesn’t matter your socioeconomic status, who your parents are or what your interests are; basketball unites all of us.
The loud cheers of “Here we go Trojans, here we go” permeated throughout the Bill Green Arena, which seats 7,560, during each timeout. While our coach ran through the plays, and I gave the players their water and towels, the electricity in the gym flooded our huddles. I am sure the electricity and passion of our Trojan faithful could have powered the entirety of New Castle for a day.
However, there were even more of the Trojan faithful who made the longer trek to Lafayette Jefferson High School the next week for our semi-state encounter against Culver Academies. Waiting in the locker room before we started our warm-ups, the cheers of “We Want the Trojans” filled the Crawley Center. It was a sea of green there too; our fans took up one entire half of the 7,200-seater gym and then some.
Our congregation was there to praise the word of New Castle basketball, and even though we ended up losing, the experience of going to those gyms and experiencing Hoosier Hysteria in the flesh is something I will never forget.
The next season was a tougher year for us; we lost Gillis for the year due to an injury, but Bumbalough put together a great campaign for Mr. Basketball. However, the highlight of the season came toward the end as New Castle hosted sectionals. The Friday night slate of games was exciting, as we had a grudge match against foe Hamilton Heights and 3A number 1 Delta matched up against Blackford and their modern-day folk hero Luke Brown.
Just like it was two years ago on that Saturday night, the Fieldhouse was packed like sardines with people ready to watch Indiana high school basketball. In our matchup against Hamilton Heights, it was a back-and-forth encounter with an anxious crowd hanging on every shot. One of the commentators said it best: “They call it Hoosier hysteria for a reason, you watch it long enough, and you’ll go hysterical.”
Those two years of being manager consisted of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows; however, being on the team taught me many valuable life lessons. It taught me the importance of community and what it is like to be a member of a team. After my mom had a heart attack, managing provided me with a distraction and helped me recover from the incident.. I learned how to value my worth by helping out with the team.
Would I do it again? Yes, for two reasons. One, for the experience and the maturity it gave me; two, for the love of the game. Being down there on the parquet floor, it was my happy place. Every week, I would look forward to those games, and what new gyms I would see, what new traditions I would hear about and what storied histories I would learn. Being on the floor during practices, I would look around in awe at how beautiful and massive our gym and our history is.
Why do we care about it so much?
‘It’s religion here.’