By BRADEN LAMMERS
It’s stood for 75 years, hosted hundreds of games and has been a mecca for Southern Indiana sports fans.
Constructed largely with federal funding following the 1937 flood, the venue that is built in a very similar style to Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University, hosted its first game 1938 and many more for several different generations since.
“This area has always been a basketball-crazed area,” said Bob Potter, former Jeffersonville High School and University of Louisville basketball star who helps to run the fieldhouse. “It’s been a centralized place for basketball nuts for years.”
He explained that the area’s proximity to several universities like Indiana University, Purdue University, University of Louisville and University of Kentucky contributed to the focus the sport has played in the region and at the facility.
Sandy Knott, a 1964 JHS graduate and member of several Jeffersonville parks boards and the Cherry Hill Neighborhood Association president, said Nachand Fieldhouse was a gathering place for families and for basketball. The building is also named after her great-uncle Charles Nachand. She has been helping organize the anniversary celebration for a year.
“Many of us still remember the excitement of the activities that went on in the fieldhouse,” she said.
Knott said she had wanted to do some sort of celebration to honor the facility, especially for those who attended games in its heyday.
“It’s a landmark,” she said. “I think it’s a showpiece for Jeffersonville.”
“Obviously, there is a lot of history there. A lot of people attended a lot of games there,” Jeffersonville Parks Department director Paul Northam said. “I just don’t think the young people get the history of that building.”
EVENTS AND HISTORY
Nachand Fieldhouse is celebrating it’s 75th anniversary Saturday with an old-fashioned sock hop and mixer, as well as a basketball game featuring players that formerly played at the fieldhouse.
And there were plenty of games held at Nachand Fieldhouse over the years.
The facility was home to the Jeffersonville High School Red Devils from 1938 to 1971, Providence High School’s Pioneers played games at the fieldhouse from 1951 to 1988 and Indiana University Southeast played its last game at the fieldhouse in 1978.
One player who is expected to play is 1971 Indiana Mr. Basketball and Jeff’s all-time leading scorer, Mike Flynn.
Long-time voice of the Red Devils, Ted Throckmorton, said he started watching games there in 1938. One of his most memorable moments was watching Flynn foul out at mid-court against Floyd Central High School.
During its run as a high school basketball facility, Nachand Fieldhouse played host to plenty of basketball stars like Pete Obrenksey, an Indiana High School hall-of-fame player who wen on to Indiana University; Cotton Nash, a three-time All-American basketball player for UK, who went on to play professional baseball with the Boston Red Sox; Cliff Barker, who was one of the fabulous five from UK and coached teams at the fieldhouse; Bill Johnson Sr., who was the team captain on Jeffersonville’s famed 1935 basketball team before going on to star at Indiana. He returned and coached his son Bill Johnson Jr., who went to play at Vanderbilt University.
Potter, himself, was part of the 1952-53 team that sent five players onto division I schools. He played basketball at U of L and helped the Cardinals win an NIT championship in 1956.
“On Friday night and Saturday night, this was the place to be,” Potter said of what many regard as the heyday for local basketball in the 1950s.
He said the gymnasium fit 5,680 fans, which was a huge gymnasium at the time, and people even packed the pigeon roost above the bleachers to watch the games.
Knott recounted the lines that would form outside the fieldhouse of people waiting to get in, with those inside leaning out the windows to yell the scores to those waiting below.
Nachand Fieldhouse was also the host to the 16-team sectional tournament for the region.
“When the tournament came, it was a happening in Jeffersonville,” Throckmorton said. “It was a big deal.”
But for all its history, Nachand Fieldhouse at one point lost some of its luster as it was in need of repair. Earlier this year, the Jeffersonville Parks Department paid to repair the leaky roof and replace the windows of the city-owned basketball gym at a cost of more than $78,000. In addition, the four separate stairwells to reach the stands above the gym floor have been painted to mirror the colors of the region’s college teams.
“This place looks better now than it has in years,” Potter said. “We’re very proud to have it, and I’m very proud that the city thought enough of it to redo the thing.”
He added that the importance of the building now is that it is still open to the general public.
“There are only four of these buildings left in the state that are kept open for the citizens,” he said. “We still maintain this building for our own community. It’s historical, but we’re still using it for the enjoyment of the community.”
Nachand Fieldhouse is open six days a week and hosts volleyball and basketball games.
“If [people] have any feelings toward basketball and Jeff high school, you should just go up and take a peek. It’s worth it,” Throckmorton said. “It’s a jewel not only in the city of Jeff, but in the state of Indiana.”
And this Saturday some of the history — dating all the way back to 1907 — hanging on the walls in Nachand Fieldhouse will come back to revisit the former center of basketball in the region.
“The old guys still come back,” Potter said.
— Sports Writer Kevin Harris contributed to this report