Gym Travels Two Weeks Into 2024

Book Update

First, before I start I want to answer the one question that gets asked the most, “When is the book coming out?” The short answer is by the beginning of the 2025-26 school year. So, summer of 2025 at the earliest.

The long answer is, while I do have a publisher that is very interested and we are actually working out details and scheduling deadlines for me to handoff the text and photos, the contract hasn’t been finalized so I’m not looking to jinx anything by saying it’s definitely happening.

The basketball season is heating up and my travels are winding down.

We’re past the Holiday Tournaments and through the MLK Shootouts. Which can mean only one thing. We have roughly 4-5 weeks worth of regular season basketball before the Original March Madness annexes part of February.

I also have roughly 7-9 gyms left to photograph that are candidates to make the book and I need to do it before a March 1st deadline. Almost all of which are in the northern part of the state thankfully.

It was a packed house at the Don Dome at Notre Dame in Niles as they hosted the Shamrocks of St. Pats from Chicago for one of the best rivalries in the state, on Jan. 9, 2024

(Photo copyright of Vincent D. Johnson)

The Don Dome at Notre Dame in Niles

This is the third season I have been actively seeking out gyms to photograph. The biggest downside has been with over 100 gyms on my list there was no way I’d be able to photograph actual games at them all. Worse, I knew that I wasn’t going to get a packed gym in most cases even when there was a varsity game.

I did make it to Niles for a Notre Dame game in the Don Dome for a first round playoff game against Senn in 2022, but lets just say the Wednesday night crowd for a game the Dons looked sure to win wasn’t exactly wall-to-wall. Plus, it was still coming off of a Covid season, so everyone was masked up and I really wanted better for this venue.

Add to the fact that the following year I photographed St. Patrick’s gym during their rivalry game with N.D. in their house. It pained me that these gyms, I’ll be placing on a back-to-back pages in the book, were going to have one full house and one sparsely attended.

So, when it turned out that I wasn’t working a game on Tuesday, Jan. 9th and the Dons’ posted on X that the game was sold out against St. Pats. I told my wife I was going to miss dinner and headed off to Niles. I now have a set of two-pages spreads for each gym that will look amazing.

Need to shout out to Margo (@sdepiction on X) her retweet is what let me know about the game.

Seneca High’s Fighting Irish played a throwback game in their old gym, which is now part of the junior high, in front of an almost full house on Jan. 5th, 2024. They had the best jerseys I’ve seen in a while too.

Seneca’s New Gym will be their Old Gym and their Old Gym will be their… Even Older Gym?

Also need to give another heads up to two people on this one. Gary Middendorf, the photo editor for the Herald-News in Joliet, for reminding me of this the day of. And @HSLogoscom on X, who is a Seneca grad and first told me about this throwback game a month ahead of time, but I never added it in my calendar.

Seneca is one of the schools who had a gym on the bubble of making the book. Then I found out about their old gym, which I think is just slightly more interesting than their current gym. Although to be fair, I’ve only seen photos of the new gym.

Speaking of the new gym, it’s about to be the old gym, as the school is starting the process of building a new one. So what does that make this older gym that is now part of the junior high? Who knows? Anyway you look at it it’s a neat little gym and as long as they keep using those amazing-looking throwback jerseys, I hope they keep using it even if we have to call it the “old-old gym.”

Wrestling match between the Caravan of Mount Carmel and the Cadets of Marmion, at Mt. Carmel in Chicago on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024

(Photo copyright of Vincent D. Johnson)

Wrestling Like It’s 1985

While the premise of a book on the best high school gyms in Illinois was focused on basketball, schools use gyms for far too many things not to include some of them in the book. It’s still the same gym.

I started 2024 off at one of my favorites, in Chicago at Mount Carmel’s Alumni Gym, to cover wrestling for the Chicago Tribune’s suburban papers & website. This place just give you all the old-school feels. While it was the home court for the 1985 state basketball champs, with exception to a throwback game once in a blue moon, the Caravan play their varsity basketball in the new Cacciatore Athletic Center which was built in 2005.

However, the gym is used mainly for wrestling and if you love a good spotlight wrestling match this is the place to see it. To see more of my photos and even video from Alumni Gym follow this link. If you want to see the real thing, you’re in luck. The weather forced a rescheduling of a match between Mount Carmel (ranked #18 nationally) and Crown Point, Indiana (ranked #21 nationally) for Tuesday, Jan.16th at 6:30 in Alumni Gym.

Regina Dominican’s basketball team listen to coaches in a stairwell at halftime of their game against Christ the King from Chicago, at Regina in Wilmette on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

(Photo copyright of Vincent D. Johnson)

In at the wire!

Regina Dominican was another one of the schools that was on the bubble of my list. Not knowing how long I would have and knowing some gyms had even less time (see New Trier’s Gates Gym that had its last game on Dec. 16th, 2021 the very month I started my project) Regina just kept floating out of sight for me. Especially considering most of the photos from games there were taken from the bleacher side, so the majority of the photos I saw were of the far wall and bank of windows.

Thanks to a little prodding from Dion Martorano of the Journal & Topics Sports and Margo (@sdepiction) again, I made a trek up to the north burbs for a Saturday game and you can bet I made sure to take photos from the other side of the gym. You can see and read about The Panther Pit here as it’s the newest gym I’ve added to the site.

View this list of best high school gyms in Illinois | See the gallery of other high school gyms

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