Friday, April 15, 2011

Restraining Mt. Vernon

I have toured and played basketball in some of Indiana  and Illinois’ most touted gyms and there are only a handful that I have walked into, where I felt as though I was walking into another era.  Fewer and fewer of these gyms exist each year because bigger facilities are replacing the small, older gyms due to school needs, deterioration or high maintenance costs.  Of the gyms that I have visited,  the 75 year old Stanley Changnon Gymnasium, which is home to the Mt. Vernon Rams, is one of my favorites.  It was built in 1936 and is one of the most historic buildings on the 106-year-old high school campus.  The gym was named for legendary coach Stanley Changnon, who won 229 games at Mt. Vernon, including a perfect 33-0 season in 1949-50 and three state titles.   Last October, Changnon Gym did what only a few gym can do– it took me back in time for a few hours.

There are many features of this gym, inside and out,  that you immediately notice when entering from South 7th Street.  The word “Gymnasium” etched in the aged brick greets you as you enter. Take one step into the lobby and the trophy cases present you with a glimpse of the program’s history.  Take a few more steps inside and you are taken back to the days when Max Hooper and Walt Moore ran the court and Coach Changnon, the sideline.  The rafters provide a constant reminder of the first back-to-back titles in state history and the old, varnished wooden pull-out bleachers, fold-down seats and black iron balcony put an exclamation point on how old the gym is.  If you have ever read articles or books on the history of Illinois high school basketball, you will not get past the first chapters without reading about Mt. Vernon basketball and Changnon Gym.  But its history is only the beginning to its importance.


Over the course of three quarters century, Changnon Gym is also recognized for its electric, raucous atmosphere on game nights, due to its acoustics and the close proximity of the fans to the court.  Its dimensions make it a very difficult place for any opponent to play, let alone win.  I remember talking to Lee Bennett, Centralia boys head basketball coach, about their rival, Mt. Vernon, and he mentioned two things.  First, that we have to go visit  Changnon Gym, which was already in our plans and second, how difficult it was to play at Mt. Vernon because it feels as though the students and fans are on top of you.

This brings us to the one hidden “gym”  that intrigued me the most and which most fans outside Southern Illinois might not be aware of…and that is the gym’s infamous restraining line.  When greeting us at the entrance of the gym, Athletic Director Doug Creel, who coached the Rams until the 2007-08 season, spoke of the restraining line when we took our first steps into the gym.  He mentioned that Changnon Gym  is one of the few, if not the last, remaining large school gym in Illinois that still have a restraining line.  Due to the tight accommodations of the gym, the restraining line is marked several feet in from each end line, to allow the offensive team room to throw the ball inbounds.  The crowd is restricted from entering this area as well.   It’s hard to believe that a gym that houses one of the state’s most renown programs (Class 3A), still has these boundaries, but to me, this type of feature makes it even more special.  Although this “cracker box” style of gym provides the greatest home court advantage, the restraining line restricts the school and gym from hosting post-season games according to the IHSA by-laws.  Some think that this drawback is a cause to the Ram’s downfall in regional play over the last decade.  Others feel as though the gym itself is restraining the school and its programs.

I wanted to write about Changnon Gym, because the MVTHS referendum was voted on April 5 and passed.  It pretty much sealed the fate of future generations watching or playing games in their historic gym that has assisted in their program’s success.  It will soon be demolished, along with the other campus buildings.  I know that a gym cannot hold-up forever and a new gym provides new opportunity, but I am a fan of old gyms that hold tradition and coaches using that tradition and success to build their programs.  There is nothing better than playing in a gym, where some of the state’s greatest players, coaches and teams have played because you want to add to the legacy.  And then add in the fact that these smaller gyms create such as huge advantage for the home team and create a boisterous game-night atmosphere for the fans, that you wish it to stay around forever.

Only time will tell the impact of losing Changnon Gym will have on the Rams.  Although the new facility has its benefits, I only hope it doesn’t restrain one of Illinois’ most successful basketball programs because you don't know what you've got, until it's gone.


  1. I just don't understand why they think that they must build new gyms. I loved playing in "The Pit" and will miss it. My favorite was Trout Gym in Centralia.

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  3. Great article, loved the info and nostalgia :)!

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  5. Well written, I never missed a game while in high school because as a manager it was a great opportunity to sit next to some of the greatest coaches in high school basketball. I was manager from 1956-1960 and I saw a lot of great players play in Changnon Gym. I for one was hoping they would not build a new gym because it has so much history about it.

  6. My dad and I just attended the last game ever for Changnon gymnasium. We have occupied the same two roll out bleacher seats in the northwest corner of Changnon gym for 60 consecutive basketball seasons. The gym was packed to capacity as the Rams fell to their arch rival Centralia Orphans 53-51 in a barn burner. I've never attended an indoor athletic event where the energy and excitement approached what I've experienced at Changnon. I'm really going to miss that old gym and all the games dad and I were there to see together.

  7. Being a former MVTHS alumnus, I too will miss the old gym as well as the campus. I was able to watch the last game online via live streaming through (I live in Florida now). It was bittersweet, watching the Rams play in the same historical gym as past greats and being sad that this was the end. Even though the Rams lost to Centralia, it was only right that the last game in the old gym was against our arch rival.