|Pinckneyville's Merrill "Duster" Thomas Gymnasium|
While driving east on IL-51 outside Pinckneyville, anxiously on our way to West Frankfort, our family chatted particularly about what stories and gym features stood out to each of us. We agreed that most gyms have only a few characteristics that make it unique, such as its age, design, features, home court winning percentage, program success, etc. but the 2,400-seat Thomas Gymnasium was special since it encapsulated a handful of these measures.
The gym is truly one of the most colorful gyms that you will step into. Although I may be referring to the school colors that adorn the gym, I am also speaking of the intriguing stories and history that make the gym unique, special,…colorful. At the time of its construction, it was considered one of the state’s best high school basketball facilities. Sixty years later, it still reins among the best and is key in sustaining the program's success throughout the year.
So what makes Duster Thomas Gymnasium so special?
It all starts with the coaches who the gym and floor have been named in honor of.
Another feature of the gym that stood out to us was the display of past accolades. In the gym's corners, around the upper concourse, large pictures of each of the state championship teams hang to commemorate the program's three state championships. Also at the entrance of the gym, numerous trophy cases line the walls, encasing the hardware once won at state and various tournaments, letter jackets, team photos, and even a large "State Tournament History" plaque, which showcases the Panthers' tournament success.
"It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition." - Henry James
While most who take advantage of the open gym policy are those who’ve graduated, you have to wonder how much this policy plays into keeping the Pinckneyville Panther basketball tradition thriving. Your surroundings play a huge part in your upbringing and to stay motivated in what you enjoy in life, such as basketball, the environment around you must provide inspiration. So imagine as a young kid having the daily convenience and access to stop by the gym to refine your skills in the presence of all the tradition that surrounds you. It is a priceless benefit for the community and the inspiring ball player.