Before I begin, you should know that I love old gymnasiums. When I go to towns in other states I’ve been known to walk into random high schools and ask to see their gymnasium. I love to look at the photos on the walls, learn the history of their teams, everything. Weird? Maybe. I love old gyms, man. But let us begin . . .
For those of you who don’t know, “The Jigger” is the name of the gymnasium in which I coach. How it got that name will be told shortly, but let’s start at the beginning . . .
Back in the late 1950’s, two local high schools, Twin and Bainbridge, decided to consolidate into one high school. Twin’s athletic teams were the Tigers and wore the colors blue and gold. Bainbridge? They were the Polar Bears and wore orange and black. The two schools were heated rivals, so the consolidation had to be handled delicately. In fact, much discussion took place as to where the new school would even be built. It was finally decided, wisely, that the school would be built halfway between the towns where Twin and Bainbridge schools were located, Bourneville (home of Twin High School) and Bainbridge (the home of Bainbridge High School). As for the school name and the school colors, a combination was decided upon. The new school would be called Paint Valley (after the beautiful valley in which it was located), black would be borrowed from Bainbridge’s black and orange, and gold would be taken from Twin’s blue and gold. Thus was born Paint Valley’s black and gold. But what about a mascot? Bainbridge was the Polar Bears and Twin was the Tigers. Bears and cats. Ah. Somewhere, a light went on in somebody’s head, and the PAINT VALLEY BEARCATS were born.
And you know what? It was perfect.
Soon after, a gymnasium was built. And it was not an ordinary gymnasium. In an era of small, 300-400 seat gyms, Paint Valley’s sparkling new gym was a crown jewel among Southern Ohio gyms. It seated 1,300 people, a rarity for its time. For years, many post-season tournaments were held there.
As a kid, I attended many events in this amazing gymnasium. My father took me to games, and I have distinct memories of watching Coach Oral Crabtree’s great teams play there. Legendary players like Stacey Thompson, Mike Everhart, Mike Haas, and Mike Kinnamon all played there. SVC and Ross County League championships were won.
I even remember watching my sister’s boyfriend play there, a player by the name of Donald Anderson. His nickname? Jigger. But more on that later as well.
I recall attending sectional and district basketball games there too, and I loved it. My Dad and I always sat in the top section on the home side, dead center, and I was mesmerized by the place. The smell, the sounds, everything about it fascinated me.
Later, when I attended Paint Valley, I had the honor of playing in that same gymnasium in which I had sat years before. Even then I felt I was playing in a special place, the coolest gym in our league. There was something about the feel of the place. It actually seemed to have a personality of its own, ya know?
Later I ended up becoming a teacher and basketball coach, and the very first game in which I coached took place in the very gym I loved so much. It was just junior high basketball, but it meant so much to me to be coaching in that facility. After that first year I left to coach and teach at another school, and for 7-years I never set foot in the gymnasium I’d grown to love so much.
As fate would have it, however, I was hired to coach at my former school and in the gym I loved dearly. I remember my first game back, in the Fall of 1988, and I immediately knew I was home. It felt so comfortable to be there, so . . . right.
For the next 8-years I coached in that gym, and no matter where we played I always thought our gym was better than any other. And by the way, the man who hired me to be the head basketball coach was Donald “Jigger” Anderson, now my sister’s husband and the same guy I watched play back in the late 60’s. And during all my years coaching at Paint Valley, there had been no bigger supporter of Paint Valley basketball than Jigger.
I resigned from my coaching job after the 1996 season, and a couple months later our school suffered a major blow – Jigger passed away. He was such a integral part of our school that his death affected everyone. He meant that much to everybody affiliated with Paint Valley High School, and it was a difficult time for all of us.
In the Fall of 1997 I was hired as Athletic Director at Paint Valley, and in 2001 our school underwent a major renovation. A junior high and elementary building was built beside our existing high school, and my beloved gymnasium was to undergo a complete renovation as well.
The original plans called for new plastic bleachers to replace the old wooden ones, plexiglass to replace the old iron railings, and the red brick on each side of our stage to be painted white to match the walls.
Nah, that wouldn’t do, now would it? I felt our gym somehow had to be renovated, but in a way that kept its old school feel. Its integrity if you will. Hell, it’s personality. It’s character.
Luckily, we had a Superintendent who felt the same way. As it turned out, we opted for wooden bleachers, wrought iron railings, and we kept the red brick on each side of our stage. A balcony on the visitor’s side was added, and somehow, someway, we kept the feel of the original gymnasium. Old school, baby, and it looked fantastic.
On January 12th, 2002, in a special ceremony, we officially dedicated our newly renovated gymnasium. It was named Donald “Jigger” Anderson gymnasium, after the man who meant so much to our school, our teachers, our students and our sports teams.
“The Jigger” was born.
And today, 15-years later and in an era of new, antiseptic, lifeless, and cookie-cutter gyms without character, I believe ours still stands out. We maintained the integrity of the original, and it was worth it.
On the wall next to the place where Jigger used to stand at every game, there hangs a plaque. It explains why our gym carries his name, and I touch it every time I walk past it. I know he’d be proud that we kept the integrity of the gym he loved so much.
To this day, on any given morning, I take a long look around as I walk into the empty gym. I take it all in. I do the same when I’m the last to leave at night. I have so many great memories of games, teams, moments, and players there. And yes, memories of Jigger. It’s an amazing feeling really, a feeling that I can’t get anywhere else.
And I don’t think that feeling will ever go away.