‘I have so many memories’: Historic Muncie Fieldhouse re-opens
By DOUG ZALESKI
Chandler Thompson played on the biggest of stages during his high school basketball career in the late 1980s at Muncie Central. The national spotlight found him when he was a star on the Ball State team in the 1990 NCAA Tournament where his legendary leaping ability thrilled a nation of fans on a putback dunk against UNLV. He played on courts and in arenas throughout the world during a 13-year professional career overseas.
While those highlights are still vivid, he also recalls with great fondness sitting in the stands at Muncie Fieldhouse as a 6th-grader watching the mighty Central Bearcats play against Marion and star player James Blackmon in 1982.
His thoughts also go to Southside High’s Lawrence Jordan making a half-court shot against the Bearcats. Or Yorktown’s Greg Miller knocking Central out in the 1986 sectional. Or numerous victories over foes from the North Central Conference, the state’s premier high school basketball league in the 1980s.
“I have so many memories,” Thompson said.
Add to them the re-opening of the Fieldhouse on Friday night, the culmination of a two-year effort to find money and then fix a gaping hole in the roof torn apart by an EF-1 tornado in November 2017.
The re-birth was a glorious one for the Bearcat boys team as it whipped Logansport 74-50 in an NCC game. Victor Young led the way with 18 points, Dylan Stafford had 17 points and six rebounds, and Jayden Long added 16 points and six assists.
The Central girls team played Logansport in the opener of the doubleheader, falling 59-46. Garynn Sims-Jones led the Bearcats with 15 points and Sayla McIntosh had 13.
Young, the only player on the Bearcat boys team to start a game previously in the Fieldhouse, said it “means the world” to him to finish his career this season in the building that finished construction in 1928, the same year Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse opened.
“The day the tornado happened and somebody told me the Fieldhouse got hit and we wouldn’t be able to play in it, I was … when we played at Southside (Middle School the past 2 years), it never really felt like home,” Young said.
“Last summer when we were told the Fieldhouse would be open and we’d be able to play in it was the greatest moment ever.”
Thompson’s dream of playing in the Fieldhouse began with that long-ago visit in elementary school. He was mesmerized by the atmosphere.
Playing for Harrell (the Fieldhouse court is named in his honor) in high school was icing on the cake. Thompson said if Harrell, who died at age 76 in 2004, would have been in the Fieldhouse on Friday the coach would have implored him to run their spread offense with a big lead in the second half.
“He would have put his hand up and said ‘5, 5, 5’ in that Kentucky accent, and that was our spread offense, our stall,” Thompson said. “Layups and free throws.”
And, of course, getting in the ear of the referees.
“He’d have that program in his hand and stomping on the floor to get their attention,” Thompson said.
Before going on to play and eventually coach college basketball at Miami of Ohio, Jerry Pierson was a star player on a loaded Royerton High School team just outside of Muncie.
With three Division I players at Royerton (Pierson was joined by Ron Pease who went to Indiana and Doug Piazza who played at LSU), the Redbirds were dominant in the early 1960s.
Pierson’s team played in the Fieldhouse when it was the site for the Delaware County Tournament and the annual sectional. All told, Pierson estimated he played about 20 games in the building from 1960-62.
“Without a doubt, it was almost like a state tournament; it was that magical,” Pierson said. “Non
e of us played in anything like that. It was a palace, and the crowds were big.”
Pierson said his worst memory of games in the Fieldhouse was Royerton’s loss to Burris in the 1961 sectional. The Redbirds were undefeated on the season and led the Owls by 15 points at halftime, only to lose the game.
“I think we were looking ahead to a game against Muncie Central,” he said.
Pierson’s best memory in the Fieldhouse came when he coached Cowan to a sectional title, knocking off the heavily favored Bearcats along the way. He still has the postgame interview with legendary broadcaster Morry Mannies on reel-to-reel tape.
Pierson said the $1.8 million insurance money spent on repairing the Fieldhouse and saving the structure at a time when similar historic buildings aren’t spared the wrecking ball is a great decision.
“There are so many stories about things that happened there that you’ve read about,” he said. “The history of Muncie Central is just phenomenal, the state championships, the players. You can’t put a value to it.”