After a hectic year of transition, Muncie Community Schools is looking to restore normalcy to the district. The new board has straightened out the bus schedule, worked on retention and hired new teachers.
Now, the board is trying to pull off a Christmas miracle.
During the Sept. 7 Ball State Board of Trustees meeting, Jim Lowe, associate vice president for facilities planning and management, said the board was hoping to have repairs done to the Fieldhouse sometime in December.
“So, with any luck by the middle and to the end of December, the roof damage is repaired and the floors back in shape and rest of it is just repairing damage to the lobby and locker room area. [It would] be done in small packages,” said Lowe, who is also a Muncie Community Schools board member.
“We were hopeful, I’m making no promises, that we will do something maybe around the Christmas Sing time period, but that’s a little aggressive right now, it might be now more the first part of January.”
A devastating storm
Nearly a year ago, an EF-1 tornado touched down in Muncie and left several neighborhoods, three Muncie schools and the Muncie Fieldhouse damaged. And though most of those damages were repaired in the weeks following the tornado, one building was left in ruins: the Fieldhouse.
Following the storm, Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said it would take tens-of-millions of dollars to repair the Fieldhouse and other Muncie damages.
“If you look at the Fieldhouse … they probably got a 100,000 gallons worth of water in that facility before they were able to get the water shut off because that was a 4-inch water main that burst when the roof collapsed on it and broke it,” Tyler said in an interview the day after the November 2017 storm.
For months, the Fieldhouse sat, stoic, waiting for assessments from the insurance company to come it. Though the water was gone and the holes in the roof were patched, its bleachers sat empty (and continue to do so).
A rich history
Built in 1928, the Fieldhouse was meant to quench the desire for a new basketball facility. In 1922, talks about securing a new sports facility were started, but never came to fruition.
Then, Muncie Central High School won the state championship against Anderson High School (35-24). From then on, the building was used as a basketball court where many teams played, including the Harlem Globetrotters.
For Ray Ditzenberger the Fieldhouse was most known for basketball and the large, rowdy crowds that filled the arena each night to watch local teams face off.
“It was always a big deal to get to go to all the ball games, you know, sectionals and the county tourney both took up pretty much a whole week,” said Ditzenberger, who went to Yorktown High School. “So, every night after school kids were up at the Fieldhouse, watching ball games. That was a big deal back then. We didn't have a lot. Of course, basketball was a big deal in Indiana anyway.”
Though Ditzenberger has since moved to Spring Hill, Tennessee, he said losing the Fieldhouse would be a shame.
“It's just kind of a monument. I mean it's just always been there and everybody that lives in the county has memories from there. Everybody,” Ditzenberger said.
“It's just part of Muncie. Basketball in Muncie is a main activity. It's a main thing that the whole community revolves around, you know, the Bearcats have won several state championships and it’s just part of Muncie, it's a bigger part of Muncie then it is a lot of the towns in the state and the Fieldhouse is what that … symbolizes.”
However, the gym, which is the fifth largest high school gym in the United States, wasn’t just used to play basketball. Kay Rankin, 71, remembers the Fieldhouse as an annex building for McKinley Junior High School. Students, including herself, would walk to the Fieldhouse to take home economics, industrial arts or gym.
But, the Fieldhouse to Rankin, a lifelong Muncie resident, toted more than hosting basketball state championships. It meant more than the mundane walk she, along with countless classmates, made to the building every day for classes. It was a way to unite an otherwise divided community.
“The Fieldhouse has always been a building that has drawn this community, together. So, anytime there's an event at the Fieldhouse it kind of separates it whether it's north, south, east or west,” Rankin said. “It is a building that's centrally located and would pull the community together, not only for athletic events but, for entertainment events, As well. Of course, the Christmas Sing is the first thing that comes to mind.”
Though it’s still up in the air whether or not the Fieldhouse’s nostalgic wood floors and bright lights will be up and running before Christmas Sing, there’s one thing Rankin, Ditzenberger and many other Muncie-area residents agreed on: it would be a shame to lose the Fieldhouse — without it, a part of Muncie’s history is torn away from younger generations.
Mary Freda is a senior news journalism and Spanish major at Ball State University.
In 2018, Mary was one of 10 students selected to participate in Hoosier State Press Association Pulliam Internship, where she was assigned to work at The Star Press as a general assignment, news reporter.
Currently, Mary works as a stringer reporter for The Commercial Review and The Star Press.