We’re in Dayton, Ohio, for the NCAA women’s basketball regional. Me and Mike Baldwin. We flew into Indianapolis — Southwest doesn’t fly to Dayton or Cincinnati; I’m a Southwest loyalist, although if their fares don’t get under control, that might end — and drove over Friday.
We stopped in New Castle, Ind. Baldwin never had been there. I wanted to show him the New Castle Fieldhouse, the nation’s largest (in seating capacity) high school gym. New Castle Fieldhouse seats 9,325 and is old school, a huge bowl that you enter from the top, at street level, and flows down into a cavernous sea of bleachers surrounding a classic parquet wooden floor, lined with New Castle’s classic green.
New Castle is where Kent Benson played high school basketball. Steve Alford, too. Both were Indiana schoolboy legends.
Before we stopped off at the gym, we toured the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, which sits next to the New Castle High School campus. It’s really a museum of Indiana high school hoops, heavy not so much on “Hoosiers” or the real-life story that inspired the movie, Milan High’s historic 1952 upset if mighty Muncie Central, but on the culture that begat such a tale.
Anyway, it was worth the $5 admission. They’ve done a nice job of celebrating Indiana hoops. Made me wish Oklahoma had something similar. The Oklahoma culture in the small schools is very much the same; Indiana has the edge in the bigger schools when it comes to basketball passion. But one thing I learned: Indiana didn’t start sponsoring a girls state championship until 1976. By then, Oklahoma had been playing girls state championships for almost half a century.
Anyway, the hall of fame put us in the mood to really appreciate the New Castle Field House. And as we circled the top of the fieldhouse, looking at New Castle memorabilia, I searched for a particular picture.
And found it. On a wall with photos of all kinds of New Castle sports teams, there was a picture of New Castle’s 1993 sectional tennis championship team. Including a certain player named Toby Rowland.
Yep, OU’s new radio voice. Toby grew up mostly in Oklahoma but moved to Indiana during his high school days and went to New Castle High School. He came back to Oklahoma to attend Southern Nazarene University, but he was an athlete at New Castle.
And think of the irony if somehow Steve Alford ends up as the Oklahoma basketball coach. I think he’s pretty far down the list, but he wouldn’t be a bad selection. Now the head coach at New Mexico, Alford has done well at Missouri State and New Mexico, with a mediocre stop in between at Iowa.
But should OU hire Alford, his games would be called by a guy who joins him on the wall of the most famous high school gym in America.