—Mount Carmel’s Ryan Boersma celebrates after winning his 285 pound bout under the spotlight in the Alumni Gym at Mount Carmel, in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson).

A Place You Only Get To See Once A Year

When it comes to sports today newer is better. Just look at the facilities upgrades in college football, where players choose the team. So why does one of the most well-known private high schools in the state still hold onto a gym that is heading into its 100th year of service? Because, at least one night each year the school holds a sporting event completely different than anything fans under 50 have seen in their lifetime. Unless of course they are a Caravan grad.

A view from the balcony during wrestling under a single spotlight in the Alumni Gym at Mount Carmel Catholic High School in Chicago, Jan. 21, 2022. Photo copyright of Vincent David Johnson.

It is no accident that the first photo of this gym breakdown is in black & white. The places looks and feels old. It is old! Even in person it’s possible to look around the gym and not see anything in color. The dark-brown balcony, known as “The Ring of Honor,” wraps around the court and stands apart from the beige brick, painted white walls & white ceiling. Aside from the golden-brown color of the wooden court floor, there is no other color in the gym apart from the glow of the old scoreboard.

Students are primarily relegated to the balcony, where those in front sit down with there legs hanging over the edge, Jan. 21, 2022.
A purposely placed hole in the balcony floor was most likely for an exposed steam-heat radiator pipe, as forced-air heat wasn’t a thing in 1924 when the gym was built, Jan. 21, 2022. (photo by Vincent D. Johnson).
The light from the scoreboard adds a splash of color to an otherwise colorless gym, Jan. 21, 2022.

There are about 5 rows of permanent retractable bleachers at court level that run the length of the sidelines. During events chairs are placed at the baselines with portable bleachers behind them. A large open space underneath the balcony typically houses a concession stand for events like their annual “Fight Night,” a set of intramural boxing bouts, but they’ve also had concessions in a hallway outside the gym. The open space also seems to double as a place for little kids to run around, or wrestlers to get in their mental space before a match.

Little things to check out while you’re there: Chances are they’ll have the windows open as this place gets warm when it’s packed. So make sure to see if you can catch the trains going by on the tracks directly west of the gym. You’ll definitely hear them. A set of nice wooden-closest doors line the north wall of the balcony. And while it won’t be easy to miss, the championship banners lining the ceiling reflect a simpler time and complement the room very well. Much different than the banners lining the new athletic center.

Pre-matche between Crown Point and Mount Carmel, at Mount Carmel H.S. in Chicago on Jan. 21, 2022.
Mount Carmel Fight Night, April 30, 2022.

Mount Carmel’s gym in the current era

Mount Carmel’s current gym, in the Cacciatore Athletic Center, which was built in 2005, boasts a full above court track, enough space for three basketball courts and a weight training room that separates the basketball facilities from the football/soccer field, Dec. 6, 2022.

While Mount Carmel may have won a basketball state championship in 1985 playing hoops in Alumni Gym, and had players like Antoine Walker there in the 1990s; there are very few schools in the new millennia, public or private, that could get by with a setting like Alumni Gym only. One of my favorite stories about the gym is from one of the Mount Carmel athletic staff who told me that, during on select games played in Alumni gym recently, they were approached by a mom from suburban school. She was very unhappy and thought the setting was unsafe for fans and players, because of the close proximity between the sideline bleachers and the court.

The 1985 State Champion basketball banner hangs above the Ring of Honor in the Alumni Gym at Mount Carmel H.S. as spectators stand during the National Anthem before the start of a spotlight wrestling meet between Crown Point and Mount Carmel, in Chicago, Jan. 21, 2022.
The crowd during the Crown Point / Mount Carmel wrestling meet on Jan. 21, 2022.

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