When then-named Chrysler Fieldhouse was finished in time for the 1959-60 academic year, New Castle had the North Central Conference’s finest athletic facility for indoor sports and one of the finest high school facilities in the world.
The 1960 Rosennial, the yearbook for Walter P. Chrysler Memorial High School, claimed the Fieldhouse could seat 9,600 fans for an event, and that was attempted during the first boys basketball regional it hosted in 1960.
In fact, reports were that more than 10,000 spectators crammed into the Fieldhouse for both regional sessions on Saturday, March 5 to see undefeated Muncie Central and its Indiana Mr. Basketball Ron Bonham run roughshod over its two opponents, including Middletown 112-56 in the championship game, to win the first New Castle regional title.
People were sitting on the steps in the aisles and standing all around the concourse, something the state fire marshal deeply frowned upon.
So, starting with the 1960-61 season, seating was capped at 9,325, including the portable bleachers that were put up for special occasions, like the Big Four Tournament and the regional.
The need for the extra bleachers continued for 30-plus years, up through the night in March 1997 when New Castle played Michael Menser and Batesville in the championship game of the final one-class New Castle regional.
This was the game featured in an article in “Sports Illustrated” back then, one in which a one-loss New Castle team won 61-58 in overtime to advance to the Hinkle semi-state in Indianapolis.
Class basketball was instituted the following season. Whether or not this was a major reason for the decline in attendance is debatable, but the need for the extra bleachers kind of waned.
Eventually, New Castle High School sold those extra (portable) bleachers because of this, but what it did was to reduce seating capacity in the Fieldhouse to 7,829, which was less than a couple of high school gyms in Indiana.
With Anderson’s Wigwam and its 8,900+ seats no longer utilized as an athletic facility, the title of largest gym (according to seating capacity) went to Seymour and Richmond’s Tiernan Center, both with more than 8,100 seats.
To regain its status as the largest fieldhouse, New Castle has installed 260 telescoping seats on the west concourse and has 335 additional seats in portable bleachers, making the seating capacity of New Castle Fieldhouse now 8,424.
As a basketball venue, New Castle Fieldhouse has hosted sectionals for both boys and girls and regionals, Indana Pacers preseason and regular season games in 1967, a college basketball tournament in 1970, and the Indiana Junior-Senior All-Star Games in 2019, among others.
In addition, the Fieldhouse hosts annually an IHSAA wrestling semi-state and has hosted the state cheerleading championships and the Indiana dance team championships.
According to the 1960 Rosennial, the Fieldhouse in its first year served as the venue for the Central Indiana Choral Festival, the Mid-State Orchestra Festival, and a Marine Band concert.
In later years, the Fieldhouse served annually as the venue for the Community-wide Sing and Sing We Noel, and was the venue for an all-week Ford Philpot Evangelical Crusade in April 1968.
So one can see that New Castle Fieldhouse is much more than an athletic facility for basketball.
The Fieldhouse also is an attraction that draws people from far and wide. After New Castle defeated Benton Central in boys basketball Jan. 2 of this year, Bison fans were seen on the concourse snapping photos and smiling even though their team lost.
In addition, people visiting the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame often make it a point to go directly east and catch a peek of the Fieldhouse even when it is closed.
According to Dr. Neil Thornhill, New Castle basketball historian, Benton Central was the 99th different school the Trojans have played in the Fieldhouse, now in its 62nd season of use. Who will be the 100th?
In any case, let’s find some type of event, sporting or otherwise, that will fill those 8,424 seats.
That is the hope of this writer, as it will bring back memories of a packed facility in which people had to park way down on Trojan Lane near Ind. 3 or way up on Parkside Dr. near Main St. before walking to attend an event.