Outside the Huddle is profiling which 10 area basketball gyms it feels are the best around as we spend some time this off-season looking at unique aspects of these facilities.
Each facility is rated on four factors – game night atmosphere, design, amenities and team success, as well as testimonials from the home team, the opposition and Bounce himself.
NOTE: While success does play a factor in these rankings, it certainly isn’t the biggest factor. That seemed to be a sticking point in the football field countdown from our readers.
No. 4 North Arena / Bob Straight Court
Location: Huntington North High School
First season: 1975
Named for: Arena named with the school (Huntington North). The court was dedicated in 2015 after Bob Straight, who coached the Vikings to a state runner up finish in 1964. Straight was the first principal for post-consolidation Huntington North.
SCORE BREAKDOWN (1 – lowest; 5 – highest)
Game night atmosphere: 3.25
This is a tough one.
On the one hand, many Huntington North home games, both boys and girls, are played without the entire complement of seats made available due to smaller crowds. It is not that no one goes to Vikings home games, it is just that the entire seating capacity is not needed.
On the other hand, the environment during a regional or semistate held at North Arena rivals anything in northern Indiana. When the place is at capacity, the excitement is palpable.
As for regular-season games, the Huntington North student section is typically pretty deep and boisterous. Home games are community events in Huntington, but the lack of big-time success in recent years has taken a bit of the pizzazz (yes, pizzazz) out of North Arena’s intimidation factor.
Recent upgrades to North Arena that have included much better lighting and aesthetics have improved an already-great facility. There is plenty of seating on all four sides, with the few rows of chairs on the upper level above the baselines being considered “premium” seating when those seats are set up.
The four-sided scoreboard that hangs in the middle of the arena is bright and easily readable wherever you are in the arena. The two screens in the corners also showcase information that otherwise would not be available on a normal scoreboard.
In many ways, North Arena has that nostalgic feel when Hoosier Hysteria ruled the state and thousands of people packed a high school gym on the regular. Unfortunately, those days are few and far between and leave North Arena more often that not feeling cavernous and empty.
When you are talking top notch hospitality, look no further than Huntington North. Whether it is the hospitality services for visiting teams, coaches and media or just the general disposition of the staff working the game, North Arena is always a great place to visit. Again, not an amenity that everyone gets to take on, but the upper level corner seating for media is really nice to have. Not only can you get an open space to work, but there is enough seating in the four corners for a ton of media. Multiple entry points are available, which is nice for convince and parking, especially with those big crowds.
Team success: 3.5
The days of Sean Kline and Chris Kramer feel like a lifetime ago in Huntington, as do the state championships won by the girls program in 1990 and 1995.
The boys have won just a pair of sectional titles this century, although one came as recently as 2019 when Huntington North was able to topple its nemesis Homestead in the opening round of sectional play. The switch from the NCC has done wonders for Huntington North both in travel and competitiveness, but the program has still gone over 20 years without a regional title. But within the confines of the NE8, the Vikings have been relatively successful of late, earning league titles in 2016 and 2017 and winning 16 or more games in four of the last five seasons.
Things have not been as rosy for the girls’ program. Coach Matt Hinds may be the guy to return the program to consistent success after a 15-victory rookie campaign last year. Prior to that, the Vikings had just one 15-win season since 2006.
Since winning three straight sectionals from 2004-06, the girls’ program has not hoisted a postseason trophy since and last captured a sectional championship way back in 2004 in the now-defunct Olympic Conference.
Huntington North boys basketball coach Craig Teagle: “It is a great gym and an outstanding environment. Old school (wood bleachers) blended with some new school (new sound system). It has a lot of seating to hold capacity crowds for sectional, regional or semi state basketball games. Spacious locker rooms, great ticket manager and hospitable staff running all sporting events. The stat personnel have to rate as the best in the state. It has a great shooting background and is a shooters gym with forgiving rims. Is is definitely one of the best high school gyms in the state of Indiana.”
Huntington North girls basketball coach Matt Hinds: “I love playing at North Arena. There is a different feel to our games when we are home. From THE PIT to the large capacity seating, it’s such an awesome place to watch a game. With the new and improved seating, we still have the old feel with the wood bleachers and now the band sits up top making the atmosphere all the better as the sound projects even more. A new sound system second to none and new lighting for spotlight introductions make this place a true event! Not to mention we arguably have the friendliest rims in the area. It’s definitely a Shooters Gym.”
Norwell boys basketball coach Mike McBride: “Playing at Huntington North is a tremendous challenge. They have a strong fan base with a great student section. Their gym is incredible with the scoreboard hanging over center court. It is very difficult to go to Huntington and come away with a win, but it is exciting to play in such a big gym with a fun atmosphere.”
North Arena is the biggest gym in northeast Indiana and has some serious history within its walls. Many would consider the facility an easy No. 1 due to its size, setup and environment in big postseason games.
But Bounce has a tough time ranking North Arena that high because of its sometimes-sleepy atmosphere during the season for Vikings home games. On occasion, the size of the arena can take away from the atmosphere because there are so many seats. Two thousand people at a gym in Fort Wayne is a lot more intimidating than 2,000 people in North Arena, which seats nearly three times that.
Coming Tuesday: No. 3