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What puts a sports venue on a “Best of” list?
Is it how new and hi-tech the facility is? Like So-Fi Stadium in Los Angeles. Is it how historic it is? Like Wrigley Field. What about the uniqueness of its layout? Fenway Park comes to mind. One could also take into account the greatness of the teams and players that have called it home, such as the previous version of Yankee Stadium. How about where it’s located? The Field of Dreams in Iowa or Madison Square Garden in the center of Manhattan in New York City. Of course a venue is only as good as how many people can fit into it right? Would that automatically mean the University of Michigan has the best sports venue with its 108,000 capacity, or could you also include Harvard Stadium with its Greek Panathenaic style that holds only 30,000 on that list?
There are also intangibles such as the atmosphere and the crowd. From the decorated quads and tailgating, to a deafening roar from a sea of fans all dressed in the same color that creates a home court advantage. These aspects of a place do everything from setting the tone as players and fans alike enter the facility, to how they interact while they’re there.
But, what if we strip all that away?
What if we go back to those places that are a little closer to home? When many of us were just a few weeks of practice and dedication away from playing on those courts, as opposed to the professional level where we are a few pay checks away from sitting on the side of those courts. The places that smelled like the wood they were built with. The places that were once the “big time” for a grade school hooper. Whether it was your alma mater or their rivals, the high school gym holds memories for just about all of us.
Though it’s more than just high school basketball that happened there. There were volleyball and gym class; Sunday mens leagues and pancake breakfast fundraisers. It was homecoming dances and graduations. It was the last place somebody put on a jersey or where they celebrated with a championship trophy.
But even before it was that, it started out as just two hoops at the end of some rectangle lines on the floor. It’s what was built up around it, both physical and emotional that makes it “the Best” in someone’s eyes.
Sure, you could always take a poll to see which place was the best, but a small school of 184 students like Cobden High and the Appleknockers, almost surely would get overshadowed by the 4,000 Trevian students of New Trier?
So my goal is to talk to coaches, reporters, and fans who’ve been around the state for years and put together a collection of at least 50 of Illinois’ best high school gyms into one book.
With a busy schedule photographing high schools for the Chicago Tribune’s suburban papers during the season there’s a good chance I won’t make it to each gym on a game night, but by the time graduation rolls around I should have photographed more than 50 active and some inactive high school gyms across Illinois.
Best Gyms: Short List
Already photographed, or will be for sure.
Ranked alphabetical (town name in parenthesis). Bold names have been photographed already.
- Argo H.S. Swanson Gym (Summit)
- Benton H.S. Rich Herrin Gym
- Bloomington H.S. Robert Frank Arena
- Collinsville H.S. Fletcher Gym
- Dyett H.S. (Chicago)
- East Alton-Wood River H.S. Memorial Gym
- Evanston Township H.S. Beardsley Gym
- Frankfort H.S. Max Morris Gym, (West Frankfort)
- Glenbrook South H.S. Titan Dome (Glenview)
- Harrisburg H.S. Davenport Gym
- Hinsdale Central H.S.
- Jacksonville H.S. Bowl
- Joliet Central H.S.
- Linblom H.S. Maroon Gym aka “The Nest” (Chicago)
- Leo H.S. “The Lion’s Den” (Chicago)
- Marshall H.S. (Chicago)
- Moline H.S. Wharton Field House
- Morgan Park Academy (Chicago)
- Notre Dame H.S. “The Don Dome” (Niles)
- Oak Park-River Forest H.S. (Oak Park)
- Ottawa H.S. Kingman Gym
- Proviso East H.S. (Maywood)
- Pinckneyville H.S. Duster Thomas Gym
- Quincy H.S.
- Sterling H.S.
- St. Edwards H.S. (Elgin)
- Taylorville H.S.
- Thornton Township H.S. (Harvey)
- Waukegan H.S. “The Dog Pound”
Best Gyms: In The Hunt
Gyms getting strong consideration. (Town name in parenthesis.) Bold names already photographed.
- Alden-Hebron HS
- Bradley-Bourbonnais HS
- Brother Rice HS (Chicago)
- Champaign Central HS
- Chester HS
- Chicago Vocational
- Clifton Central HS
- DuQuion HS
- DuSable HS (Chicago)
- East Aurora HS (Aurora)
- Eldorado HS
- Elgin HS
- Greenview HS
- Highland HS
- Lane Tech HS (Chicago)
- Lewistown HS
- Lyons Township HS (LaGrange)
- Maine East (Des Plaines)
- Macomb HS
- Maddison HS
- Nashville HS
- Oak Forest HS
- Palestine HS
- Pekin HS
- Pittsfield HS
- Providence-St. Mel HS (Chicago)
- Proviso West (Hillside)
- Ridgewood HS (Norridge)
- Rock Island HS
- Salem HS
- Sandoval HS
- Schurz HS (Chicago)
- Senn HS (Chicago)
- Seymour HS (Payson)
- Shelbyville HS
- Solorio HS (Chicago)
- Spart HS
- St. Francis de Salles HS (Chicago)
- Steinmetz HS (Chicago)
- United Township (East Moline)
- Waverly HS
Ghost Gyms – seldom, no longer used, or demolished locations
- Centralia HS – Old campus, now owned by a church.
- Cobden HS (demolished 2022)
- Joliet Catholic HS – former building now a retirement home.
- Lockport HS – Central campus/old gym, will only be used once in 2021-22 season
- Mount Carmel (Chicago) – Old/Alumni Gym, used only for wrestling
- New Trier H.S. Gates Gym (Winnetka) (1928-2021)
- Paris – Former HS gym, possibly still hosts a few games a year.
- St. Ignatius (Chicago) – 3rd Floor gym, not used for varsity
- St. Jospeh HS (Westchester) – Basketball powerhouse of Hoop Dreams fame, closed in 2021.
Do You Have A Gym Suggestion?
You can also email me at: vincent.johnson [at] othervertical [dot] com
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Gyms Photographed So Far
This list is being constantly updated when I have time. Some photos are clickable and will go to a dedicated page for that gym. Photos without a dedicated page will do nothing when clicked.