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The Muncie Field House was built in 1928 as the home of the Muncie Central Bearcats, the basketball team for the local high school. The Field House represents an era when Indiana communities placed an even stronger emphasis on local sports teams than they do now, going to great expense to build athletic facilities. The Field House was erected at a time when the Bearcats attracted thousands because of their winning record and the state’s general enthusiasm for high school basketball, made famous in the movie Hoosiers (1986) . At the time of construction, it was one of the largest high school gymnasiums in the state.
Muncie experienced a population boom in the late nineteenth century, due to the discovery of an extensive natural gas field throughout East Central Indiana. The Gas Boom attracted factories, including several glass and tin manufacturers, which needed large amounts of fuel for their operations. The region’s population exploded as people came to the state in search of jobs. When the Gas Boom ended in the early twentieth century, many of the factories left. With the remaining large skilled labor force, Muncie was able to attract new businesses by the 1920s, especially the emerging automobile industry.
As a result of this growth, Muncie had a need for additional schools by the late 1920s. The community also advocated for a larger gymnasium for the Central Bearcats, which were a popular local attraction. Some sports historians refer to Muncie as the “Basketball Capital of Indiana,” illustrating the importance that local residents placed on the sport. The school corporation wanted to build an entire sports complex just blocks north of downtown that would encourage physical activity, which was thought to develop mind, body, and spirit.
The final plans called for the construction of a multiuse, two-story brick building that included both a large gymnasium and enough administration offices and classrooms for all of McKinley Junior High School. Designed in the Classical Revival style, a popular choice for schools and other public buildings in the 1920s, the Field House features a formal and symmetrical arrangement of facade; round-arched windows with prominent keystones over the entrance; classical carvings over the front doors; brick pilasters; and a classical sculpture that caps the facade. The original landscape plans called for a swimming pool west of the Field House and a sunken garden to the immediate north. The entire complex was to be surrounded by trees, further adding to the beauty of the site. The seating capacity of the Field House was reported to be 8,000 for athletic events, although it probably held closer to 7,635. With additional seating, the facility could hold up to 10,000 for community events, a significant portion of the overall Muncie population. The final cost, including the purchase of the lots and the construction of the building, was $407,429.89.
Muncie citizens praised the Field House for encouraging development of “physical vigor and good sportsmanship,” believing that by-products of a physical education were good citizenship and a desire to stay in school, eventually cultivating the decision to go to college. Since its construction, the Field House has been the center of community events, which is typical of other fieldhouses and gymnasiums in the state. The same year the Field House was constructed, the Bearcats won their first state basketball championship. They would go on to win seven more, with each home game attracting thousands. The building was the site of Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to Muncie on October 27, 1939, when she gave a speech about the challenges youth faced during the Great Depression. In 1942, Abbott and Costello held a community rally to raise support for war bonds. The building is still used for community events and voting today.
Today, Indiana boasts nine of the ten largest basketball gyms in the country, each capable of holding 8,000-9,000 spectators. Although the Fieldhouse is slightly smaller, it is decades older than most of these other facilities and set the standard for the state’s high school sports complexes.
“Indiana is home to 9 of the country’s 10 largest gyms.” USA Today, February 25, 2004.
Muncie Field House folder DOC-04.014. Drawings and Documents Archive, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.
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