Eagles create lasting memory in old school gym

MENAHSA — The sound of each footstep on the wood floor echoes throughout the Seton Middle School gymnasium . Old ticket windows, which now serve as storage areas, are found at what were once the main entrances. The bleachers are modern, but the metal bars protecting the clock near the stage are a reminder of years past. The baskets are raised and lowered by hand cranks. Some of the scoreboard bulbs no longer light up. What it lacks in modern amenities, the gym, which opened as part of St. Patrick School in the 1940s, makes up for in historic charm.

A new, larger gym is under construction on the grounds of St. Mary Central High School. The old gym, which will be torn down with the school at some date prior to next winter, has provided a great deal of memories, said John Dominguez, K-8 athletic director for the Twin City Catholic Educational System (TCCES).

“We’ve had older folks come back and reminisce about the building,” he said. “One guy remembered when there was boxing in the gym. They would set up the ring on Friday evenings. That was one of the big draws. He said, ‘I remember that as a kid. It was such a fun thing to do.’”

Members of the Seton Middle School eighth grade girls basketball team celebrate the final victory in the historic gymnasium. (TCCES Photo | For The Compass)

Members of the Seton Middle School eighth grade girls basketball team celebrate the final victory in the historic gymnasium. (TCCES Photo | For The Compass)

In addition to athletic events and physical education classes, the gym has served as a venue for assemblies, concerts, dances and musicals. Seton Middle School was established at the former St. Patrick School site in 1989

The final home basketball games in the facility were played on Jan. 24. The Seton sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls teams all posted victories. The day was especially exciting for the eighth grade squad, champions of the Fox Valley Catholic Grade School League.
The Eagles sent basketball out in style in the old gym by defeating St. John, Little Chute, 39-38. Abby Bergholz scored the last field goal for Seton to give the team a two-point lead. St. John tied the score. A free throw by Seton’s Sydney Andersen regained the lead.

“We needed to stop them on defense,” said Seton point guard Abbi Thelen. “They had the ball for the last 10 seconds.”

“What was really cool about that last game was the teams were evenly matched,” said Dominguez. “Every game they have played has been close.”

St. John won both games last year as seventh graders. Seton won the first contest this year in overtime.

The Seton boys basketball teams played their final home games on Jan. 3. The two eighth grade teams met in the consolation championship.

As many as six members of the girls eighth grade team are expected to play in high school at St. Mary next season.

“We are proud of this group of girls,” said Dominguez. “They came together. Their coach worked them hard. They knew what they could accomplish through hard work.”

“We were really close as a team, we got along really well,” said Bergholz, a post player for the Eagles. “I think that helped us be successful.”

Eighth grade girls basketball coach Tom Conn coached several boys and girls teams at Seton over the years. He has many fond memories of the gym.

“It has been a privilege to coach at Seton,” he said. “At our last practice in the Seton gym, I made it a point to get there early. I wanted to walk through the quiet gym and reflect back not only on the years that I have been a part of the basketball program, but on all the great times in that small old gym. If those walls could talk!”

The old gym had its drawbacks. Sandy Ehlers, Seton Middle School principal, explained that due to the steps required to enter the gym, some grandparents were unable to attend games. The narrow court also led to more physical play.

“I like how small the court is,” said Thelen with a smile. “There is less running. The three-point line is also shorter.”

“The kids can tell you where all the dead spots are on the floor,” said Dominguez.

“Coaches who have come in here have said that they are going to miss the floor. It’s a neat old floor that’s hard to come by these days. It was neat to hear about the nostalgia of the gym, but we are very excited about the new gym.”

Dominguez added that he hopes to obtain a piece of the old floor as a keepsake. The closing of the gym coincides with the end of the Eagles. The St. Mary Middle School teams will be the Zephyrs and wear the same color scheme as the high school teams. Dominguez said that Seton is selling old uniforms and nostalgic pieces as a fundraiser to buy new athletic uniforms for the new school.

Ehlers expects to see more visitors.

“We have had so many people just stop in on a whim,” she said. “They ask, ‘Would you mind, will you take me around the building? I just want to walk through it one more time.’”

Molly Griffin of TCCES contributed to this story.