Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium – Kokomo High School Wildkats
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Kokomo Memorial Gym Still a Stunner at 70
The Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium was dedicated on October 20, 1949, and at the time was the largest gym of its kind in the world with a capacity of 7,200. Its design and size inspired other high schools to compete with against one another to build larger gyms of their own. The more seats, the better chance of securing a lucrative tournament game that brought in heavy gate receipts that in turn would go back into the arenas.
The home of the Kokomo High School Wildkats–that’s cats spelled with a “k”– basketball program is named in honor of the men and women who lost their lives in World War II. The total cost was $680,000 and replaced the venerable Haworth Gymnasium that stood for 21 years before burning to the ground in the wee hours of March 22, 1944, just days after the Kats lost in the state finals.
Ticket demand was high for Kats games when Memorial Gym open, they also were prior to its construction, that fans waited all night long for tickets in the frigid cold temperatures and students entered a lottery to purchase tickets. One player remembers coming to practice on a Saturday morning in the 1960s and walking over fans bundled up in jackets and sleeping bags. Today, the demand for tickets has come down and so has the capacity that has been reduced to 5,200.
The building features a Late Gothic Revival and Streamline Moderne architectural style and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, complete with a memorial marker on the corner of Apperson and Superior Streets. It was designed by architect Elmer Dunlap who also helped design various schools, courthouses, and parks in Indiana that are now also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Wildkats has one of the most impressive basketball histories that includes 69 sectional championships, 33 regional titles, 14 North Central Conference championships, and seven Final Four appearances. The highlight, however, was its thrilling overtime state championship in 1961 when the “Kats Did It” according to the newspaper headline that is now a mural on the outside of the building. The girls’ program has also dominated have captured three state championships: 1992, 1993, and 2003
Food & Beverage 3
There is a normal selection of menu items that include hot dogs ($1.50), nachos ($3), or fiesta nachos with meat, onions, sour cream, and tomatoes ($4). Pickles, candy, and popcorn cost $1 and all Coca-Cola products are $2. There are two concession stands in the main lobby outside the playing court; however, it is recommended to grab a bite to eat before the game at one of the many restaurants along SR-931 in town.
There are not too many other gyms in the state that look like the Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium. It is a stand-alone building with multiple entrances that has a design, unlike many other high school gyms that were built in the following decades. The outside of the doorways features white awnings with school logos, a wildkat statue, and a historical marker at the corner of the street. One gets the feeling that they are entering a small-sized college arena.
“Home of the Kats” is spelled out on the wall at one end of the arena with multiple banners hang from the rafters honoring the various basketball teams that either appeared or won state titles, highlighted by the 1961 boys state championship and 1992, 1993, and 2003 girls state championship teams. There are also individual banners that display the sectional and regional titles.
The bleacher seating is separated by two sections on the south side and into three sections on the opposite end. All upper-level sections are reachable by stairs and ramps directly from the lobby. On both ends are two more seating sections that are above the playing court and operate as balconies; one of these sections is populated by the band.
The John Turner Memorial Room is located in the west end of the main lobby and is dedicated by his parents, Earl and Ellen Turner. Turner was an All-State basketball player who died during a battle in World War II. The room features a portrait of Turner in uniform draped by two U.S. flags, while furniture from that era is set up behind a rope fence. On the opposite wall are three stained-glass windows listing every major battle of the war. Visitors walk through the area to look around and take photos, but no one is allowed to sit on the chairs or couches.
You’ll find a variety of chain restaurants and retail outlets on US-931 in Kokomo, which is not too far from the gymnasium. However, if you are looking for a few interesting sites to see or places to eat, then there are some local suggestions.
Harvey Hinklemeyers features great pizza and sandwiches and is also great for the kids. Half Moon Restaurant and Brewery is a great stop for a bite to eat or enjoy a craft beer after the game. Enjoy a giant tenderloin sandwich at Windmill Grill or Artie’s Tenderloin. A tenderloin sandwich is a giant breaded piece of pork that is deep fried and big enough for two.
Ray’s Drive-In is a funky little place that makes a killer beef Manhattan sandwich. The Foxes Trail offers a cozy atmosphere, perfectly cooked steaks, and great cocktails. Dan’s Variety Bakery is a popular destination that opens at 1 AM featuring hot, freshly baked donuts.
A great abundance of fans attend Kokomo High School games, but not like the good old days when they used to pack the house to the gills. However, enough fans are here supporting their local basketball team to easily confirm that there is still a lot of love for the Wildkats in Kokomo. Fans are supportive, dedicated, and interested in the game at hand.
The gymnasium is very easy to get around from the lower seats all the way to the upper section of seating. Signage is posted throughout the building, bathrooms and concessions are located on the main floors of the outside lobby. The only oddity is that the main lobby does not wrap around the entire building, but does extend well enough to provide four entrances to the playing court.
Arriving at the gymnasium is also fairly simple. Plenty of signage is provided directing visitors towards the historic facility with parking available on the streets or in one of the small lots outside of the gym.
Return on Investment 5
Adult tickets are $5 for all home games which is on par with other high school games in the state. The parking is free, concession prices are extremely affordable, and it makes for a great night of high school basketball hoops in a historic and cozy basketball gymnasium.
The exterior of Kokomo Memorial Gymnasium is noteworthy for a few reasons. The historic building design features photos and headlines above the main exterior entrance from when the team won the state title in 1961. There is also a bronze statue of a wildcat and a historical marker describing the facility.
The John Turner Memorial Room is located in the west end of the main lobby is a one of kind feature of any basketball gym in the state of Indiana.
The school features a taxidermy wildcat encased behind a glass cube. It is wheeled out to center court during warm-ups by a group of students and then wheeled back to the John Turner Memorial Room until it is ready for the next basketball game.
The overall aesthetics of the gymnasium are pleasing to the eyes. The red and blue banners hang proudly from the rafters, the seats are also colored red and blue, and little touches on the walls make it a visually pleasing facility for the first time visitor. It is a truly classic Indiana Fieldhouse.
There is a memorabilia area behind the upper seating section that features an array of the school’s basketball history from old yearbooks, photos, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts. A nice display that is highlighted by another stuff kat.
The layout for basketball is ideal for the game of basketball and makes that impression the moment you walk through the doors, there does not seem to be a better place to play or watch the game of basketball. The brick design, memorial wing, colorful banners, and upper balcony seating have created a perfect canvas for high school hoops in Kokomo. There are many other gyms that give off this building, because they just don’t make them like this anymore.
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Food and Drink Recommendations
Dan’s Variety Bakery
1800 S Union St
Kokomo, IN 46902
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