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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 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?

—Thornton Township High School gym in Harvey, Dec. 2021. (photo by Vincent D Johnson).

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.

—Bremen High School gym, in Midlothian, Illinois, Dec. 2021.

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 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.

—-Brother Rice High School gym, Chicago, Jan. 2020.

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?

—-Homewood-Flossmoor High School gym, in Flossmoor, Illinois, Dec. 2021.

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 roughly 80 days left till the end of the high school basketball season in Illinois, 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)

  1. Argo HS (Summit)
  2. Benton HS
  3. Bloomington H.S.
  4. Collinsville HS
  5. Dyett HS (Chicago)
  6. East Alton-Wood River HS
  7. East Aurora HS (Aurora)
  8. Evanston Township HS
  9. Elgin HS
  10. Glenbrook South HS (Glenview)
  11. Harrisburg HS
  12. Highland HS
  13. Hinsdale Central HS
  14. Jacksonville HS
  15. Joliet Central HS
  16. Linblom HS (Chicago)
  17. Leo HS (Chicago)
  18. Marshall HS (Chicago)
  19. Moline HS
  20. New Trier HS (Winnetka)
  21. Notre Dame HS (Niles)
  22. Oak Park-River Forest HS (Oak Park)
  23. Ottawa HS
  24. Providence-St. Mel HS (Chicago)
  25. Proviso East (Maywood)
  26. Pinckneyville HS
  27. Quincy HS
  28. Sterling HS
  29. St. Edwards HS (Elgin)
  30. Taylorville HS
  31. Thornton Township HS (Harvey)
  32. Waukegan HS
  33. West Frankfort HS (Frankfort)

Best Gyms: In The Hunt
Gyms getting strong consideration. (town name in parenthesis)

  1. Alden-Hebron HS
  2. Bradley-Bourbonnais HS
  3. Brother Rice HS (Chicago)
  4. Champaign Central HS
  5. Chester HS
  6. Chicago Vocational
  7. Clifton Central HS
  8. Cobden HS
  9. DuSable HS (Chicago)
  10. Eldorado HS
  11. Lane Tech HS (Chicago)
  12. Lewistown HS
  13. Lyons Township HS (LaGrange)
  14. Nashville HS
  15. Oak Forest HS
  16. Palestine HS
  17. Pekin HS
  18. Proviso West (Hillside)
  19. Ridgewood HS (Norridge)
  20. Rock Island HS
  21. Senn HS (Chicago)
  22. Seymour HS (Payson)
  23. Shelbyville HS
  24. Solorio HS (Chicago)
  25. St. Francis de Salles HS (Chicago)
  26. United Township (East Moline)
  27. Waverly HS

Ghost Gyms – seldom, no longer used, or demolished locations

  1. Centralia HS – Old campus, now owned by a church.
  2. Joliet Catholic HS – former building now a retirement home.
  3. Lockport HS – Central campus/old gym, will only be used once in 2021-22 season
  4. Mt. Carmel (Chicago) – Old/Alumni Gym, used only for wrestling
  5. Paris – Former HS gym, possibly still hosts a few games a year.
  6. St. Ignatius (Chicago) – 3rd Floor gym, not used for varsity
  7. St. Jospeh HS (Westchester) – Basketball powerhouse of Hoop Dreams fame, closed in 2021.
—-The old Joliet Catholic High School gym, 1989.

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Illinois’ Best High School Gyms updates (pick one)

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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.