BOUNCE: Columbia City’s penultimate game in gym prompts memories of years gone by

bounceinset_21COLUMBIA CITY – There is now just one game left for the gymnasium a Columbia City High School. A complete new school in a complete new location for the 2020-2021 school year will eventually bring about the wrecking ball on North Whitley Street.

So get those memories in while you can.

Although February 28’s date with Concordia Lutheran will be the final night in the old place, it was Tuesday’s affair with Manchester – a 57-47 Columbia City win – that brought me back to see the Eagles at home for the first time this season. And it is always an interesting old gym to back to, one of the fewer and fewer throwbacks to a time where gyms are unique and not cookie cutter.

Columbia City High School was established in 1880 and the current school was opened in 1958. For people who aren’t Columbia City people, you may not think much of the gym. The seats are uncomfortable. And so what? It was a gym from a time when people stood up to watch their basketball instead of sitting down to make puppy faces on their Snapchat, even if those old wood seats eventually gave way to hard tan plastic. The lighting, well its bad. And so what? There is a certain old school flair and ambience to the dimly lit old floor. I still love gyms like Columbia City’s, even for all of the things that showcase the reason it needs replaced. Enter it on a stage, walk down a couple of steps to the game floor and find yourself packed in like a sardine if you aren’t in the stands.

There used to be a time where the stands had you packed in that tight too. Greats like Bill Schwarz patrolled the court while coaches like Wayne Kreiger and Chris Benedict wore a hole in the floor, walking up and down the sideline. The gym was home to state runner up teams in 2000 (girls) and 2004 (boys). More recently, the brothers Hazen tore up the court with dunks and goofy demeanor turned serious game play.

And I could name the Columbia City greats for days. Maybe another time. This time, this game, my focus was on THE Columbia City great. That’s right, I am making it clear: scoring alone doesn’t do it, but Mitchell Wilson is a legend at Columbia City and even if the gym didn’t need one last look, Wilson did.

Columbia City’s Mitchell Wilson looks to move the ball by Manchester’s Max Carter during February 18’s game.

He scored 12 of Columbia City’s 16 first quarter points on Tuesday and then spent the rest of the game playing a true team game, chipping in where needed but playing facilitator too. While Michael Sievers was hitting it spots and Gregory Bolt was making good post cuts, Wilson was able to play floor general. Even without the ball in his hands, he reveled in the ability to lead and orchestrate. He finished with 15 points and five rebounds.

Wilson recently broke Schwarz’s scoring record that was set in 1960. That was major; getting to a mark that hadn’t been touched in decades and rumbling closer to 2,000 career points than many ever get. While the perfect records don’t exist, those that do from as recently as 2017 indicate that Wilson currently sits among the top 15-20 scorers in the history of this area. And Wilson’s game is clean and poised, a throwback just like Donald S. Weeks Gymnasium.

Behind Wilson, I loved the play of Sievers on Tuesday night. His toughness is well known on the football field, but he looks the part of an absolute force on the basketball court and I enjoyed watching the ball worked through him in the mid to high post. He gives the Eagles another unique element to work off as not enough teams respect the mid range game he is able to thrive in. Plus, who wants to box him out when he barrels in from five feet out to snag a rebound. Sievers is another throwback in how he plays. He scored a game high 20 points on Tuesday but did it with tenacity and an old school grit.

Saying goodbye to Columbia City’s gym will be more emotional for some than others. To me and to Northeast Indiana basketball, it is just another historic and veteran gym seeing its final days for a newer, more carbon copy multi-purpose gymnasium to take its place. And while I am sure the new Columbia City High School and gym will be majestic in their own right, it is never the same. Gyms built in 2020 don’t have the same personality as places like Columbia City. The frogs of the future will say the same thing about today’s new gyms in the year 2070.

Maybe I’m sappy, but nostalgia never dies.

These opinions represent those of Bounce and Outside the Huddle. No opinions expressed on Outside the Huddle represent those of any of our advertisers. Follow Bounce on Twitter at Bounce_OTH

Columbia City’s Michael Sievers looks for a pass in the low post during February 18’s game against Manchester.

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