By BRIAN A. HOWEY
INDIANAPOLIS - I first walked into Tig-Arena as a 10-year-old kid and thought it was a big place. When I played fifth grade basketball there for South Peru on Saturday mornings, the rims seemed to be in the stratosphere.
Of course, I grew, as we all did, and gradually Tig-Arena seemed to get smaller and smaller. The basketball court with its well-worn timbers was shorter than most regulation floors. The locker rooms were cramped and hot. But none of that really mattered three or four decades ago. Like Anderson's Wigwam or the old Berry Bowl in Logansport, Tig-Arena was simply a Hoosier relic that has survived.
You could feel the vibe even before you walked in the doors on a cold winter night. You could hear the muffle of the crowd a block away that, once inside, could break your eardrums. There was the pervasive smell of popcorn. Faces from the past peered out across the hallways from bygone teams and sectional champs.
When the Peru Tigers return to Tig-Arena tonight, the young players will have ghosts in their midst. Coach Bob Macy will be there in spirit. So will band director Jim Noble, who for decades marched the entire ensemble out on to the floor to make a proper presentation of the Star Spangled Banner. As the gathered thousands looked west toward the flag hanging from the rafters where "Nobe" conducted, there was the Grantland Rice creed never to be forgotten:
For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks - not that you won or lost-
But how you played the game.
In my era, Peru had greater scorers like Mike Saine, John Garrett, Rick Wolfert and Mr. Basketball Kyle Macy. Back in the '60s and '70s Peru was a rail center, an Air Force town and a place with a future. We had Indiana All-Stars and teams in the single class AP Top 20. And there were the star players like Mark Lozier from Logansport, David Colescott and Jovan Price from Marion, or Jim Caldwell from Michigan City Elston High School who would come to play the Tigers. Here in the Hoosier state, we use the term "barn burner" to describe the epic showdown. Tig-Arena was the classic barn.
Tig-Arena on a cold winter's Friday or Saturday night would become a stew of heady boosterism, fine athletes (and the mediocre), the drum cadence from the band, bravado from the P-Club, the tumbling cheerleaders, and rabid fans. The long-time referee Gary Muncy (a classic Hoosier name) once called it one of the most intense places to officiate in the state. Fans at Tig-Arena wouldn't just pop a ref upside the head with a penny or a nickel; sometimes they would throw quarters.
Whether the game would end on a Kyle Macy bomb 25-feet out, a lay-up from a Buffington or Gilbert Pacey, a Willie Fuller dunk or a steal by Binks Biddle, the intensity was forever memorable. After the game, you could hear the kids stomping on Pepsi cups and shooting buckets in the stifling heat.
As the kids got taller and the fans wider, Peru decided it had outgrown Tig-Arena. They auctioned off the old team photos from the hallways and sold the old field house to the Miami nation. The Tigers moved into the newer high school gym across town.
It would never be the same, perhaps, until tonight.
Howey was a Marching Tiger from the Class of 1974. He now lives in Indianapolis and Nashville and writes at www.howeypolitics.com. This article was originally published by the Peru Tribune.