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Restoring Fieldhouse glory - and possibilities

By DARREL RADFORD - dradford@thecouriertimes.com

More than just bleachers are being restored at New Castle Fieldhouse these days. Momentum is building to also restore the beloved facility’s status as the largest and finest high school gymnasium in the world.

Thursday, New Castle High School Athletic Director Shane Osting provided an update of a drive to raise funds for purchasing new extra bleachers that would once again establish seating capacity at 9,320, making it number one again.

A golf outing to raise funds for the cause, scheduled Sept. 7, is virtually sold out, with 44 teams signed up. Colorful posters of the fieldhouse filled to the brim with Hoosier Hysteria fans continue to be on sale for $25. Those signs can be purchased at the high school athletic office during school hours. Before 8 a.m. or after 3 p.m., Osting says to use door number 3. During school hours, he advises to use door number one.

Earlier this year, word was spread that New Castle no longer had extra bleachers once used in the Steve Alford glory days, dropping its total seating capacity from more than 9,000 to 7,829. That pushed New Castle to third on the biggest gym list, behind Seymour and Richmond.

While some may question the real need for extra bleachers, Osting says its justified for multiple reasons.

“What I’ve heard from community members is they want to be number one again,” Osting said. “They’ve been number one for a long time and for this word to come out that we weren’t number one was shocking and surprising. People have been asking what we need to do to get back to number one.”

The recent push to raise funds locally for extra bleachers is reminiscent of the “Gym Now” campaign of the 1950s to build the fieldhouse.

“People who remember that have been behind a lot of the push to create this fund with the Henry County Community Foundation to allow local residents to support this,” Osting said, “because when the fieldhouse was built, it was supported by the community. It was the community that helped put it together.”

While single class basketball is gone and multi-class sports are blamed in part for diluting attendance at high school events, Osting makes the case extra bleachers could still be valuable to have here.

“The sectional semifinals last year were a challenge,” Osting said. “A couple of years ago with Connersville we had a sectional championship that was crowded. People don’t like to sit as tightly bunched as they used to, they appreciate having more room. If you have the ability to offer some more free space and for people to not feel like they’re so crowded, it helps.

“I think there are events we host that can definitely use extra bleachers,” Osting continued. “We hosted an ESPN event three years ago. If we could have an event like that again featuring Division I college players, those extra bleachers would be helpful.”

Osting said the wrestling semistate, held here for the past several years, and the state cheerleading competition would also benefit from extra bleachers.

The annual Hall of Fame tournaments held here also justify the effort in Osting’s view as well as dance team competitions once held here.

“It will be something that helps us have the ability to host more events,” Osting said. “All of that brings in extra money for the community through lodging and visitors eating at our restaurants.”

Watch for more on the drive to raise money for extra bleachers at the fieldhouse in future articles.