Edson: Northern Michigan’s Memorable Gymnasiums

Being the son of a basketball coach, I spent many Tuesday and Friday nights in the 1960s riding with my dad’s basketball teams around northern Michigan.

In the early 1970s, I made the transformation from the clipboard to the basketball court as a player.

During that time, I got to experience several memorable gymnasiums around the area.

Far and away the most memorable was the experience of playing Friday night road games at the so-called "Icebox of Michigan" in Pellston.

During some of those games in late January in early February, the temperature outside was well below zero. The Pellston gym was tiny and it was lit by simple light bulbs.

Not only that, but there was no extra space around the out of bounds lines. For instance, if you were sitting on the bench – individual folding chairs – you could easily stick your foot out and trip a player as they raced by. We didn’t do that, of course. But it was easily possible.

And there was the built in home court advantage. It has to do with the big doors on each side of the Pellston gym. Whichever end we were shooting on, those doors seemed to be open during that half of the game. The cold temperatures made that end of the court like a skating rink.

It was always an experience playing in Pellston because of the long drive – about 90 minutes on a school bus from my home town of Mancelona. And then throw in the unique court and lighting and it’s something you never forget.

Another memorable gym was one I covered games in during my time at the Record-Eagle. That’s the old Buckley gym. In the mid-1980s Buckley had a great team, led by All-Stater Mike Wilson. The place wound be packed to the rafters some nights.

One night our sports reporter Denny Chase was tucked up in the stands next to a window that was cracked open with a piece of wood to help cool the place off. But as he stood next to it, the window came crashing down on his shoulder. He thought he had broken his arm or shoulder, but recovered in time to cover the game and drive back to our office in Traverse City.

The most unique gym I remember is in Petoskey, located at the old Middle School. That gym is a classic. It is played in a bowl, with the seats built up around it. I have always loved that gym because it brings back great memories.

The first is that three generations of my family played there – my dad (Ellsworth), myself (Mancelona) and my son (Traverse City West).

The second reason is that I did my student teaching at the Petoskey Middle School back in 1976.

For some reason, this gym as a favorite because I seemed to shoot the ball better in there than anywhere else. It was a very comfortable place to play.

But in listening to area basketball fans over the years, I’ve come to appreciate that there were many memorable northern Michigan basketball gyms.

These days when I walk into gyms around the area, I’m in awe of what I see. There are beautiful murals painted on the walls of the gym. There are running tracks around some of them.  The best gyms have become all-purpose facilities.

But I still love the old gyms. They might have seemed imperfect to some fans, but they will always remain classics with me.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.

Categories: Boys Basketball, Girls Basketball