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Girmindl's Ghost

A diary of Shaker High School's 2005-2006 basketball season, a retelling of Shaker's fabled 1979-1980 season, and general commentary on high school hoops, updated daily...

"I like sitting in the back row. I found that sitting against the wall is just easier on your back." -Dean Smith, on the comfort of the H-gym bleachers

Ahhh, H-gym...

Ahhh, H-gym the new gym: I bet you never thought you'd see someone write 2500 words on H-gym. And I'm sure you never thought that you would actually read it. (And now check out the companion photo essay!) But here we go…

First off, I don't know why I'm calling it H-gym. I never called it that when I was in school. Back then, we just called it "the new gym." Not that anyone my age remembers when it was actually new - it was 20 years old when I arrived at Shaker. But I guess it's just one of those things that gets passed down over the years. The old gym is the old gym and the new gym is the new gym. I guess I started calling it H-gym a few years ago. For some reason, the administrators at the school started referring to it that way, like there was some concerted effort to displace "the new gym" as its moniker. But I don't think it was really intentional, people just stopped calling it the new gym. I think they wanted to move the dances there and they just couldn't bear the thought of scuffing of the floor in the "new gym," so they solved their dilemma by eliminating the nickname. You know what, i'll just call it the new gym.

If you’ve never been to H-gym, the most obvious thing to say about it is that it’s gigantic for a high school gym. Like every high school gym, it has a regulation basketball court in the center, but H-gym has enough room for three regulation basketball courts. That’s bigger than almost every high gym around. The bleachers recess into the walls, and when they are pulled out over the other two courts, the place looks very, very big. A standing-room only crowd at H-gym is about 2200 people, a feat that was achieved many times in 1979-80 but, as far as I know, never since.

The other important part about H-gym is hallway outside of the gym. That's where the concession stand, ticket counter, trophy case, and Shaker sports hall of fame resides. It's also the cool place to congregate before the game, as well as the only way to access the locker rooms, meaning it's the best place to stand if you want to see a player after the game. (See the photo essay for some good pictures and descriptions of the hallway and, in particular, the trophy case.)

The thing I always found funny about the new gym was how unabashedly not new everything seems in there. If you and I both came up with a list of the top 3 things that need to be replaced in the new gym, would you bet significant money that our lists would have 2 things in common? I wouldn't. My list would look something like this:

1) The sound system. I would hope that anyone making such a list would have this as there number one. I'm not even really sure why they use it anymore at the basketball games. Back in the mid-90's, you could probably hear the substitutions called from the 10th row of the bleachers, but there's no way now. I'm not sure you can even hear it if you are standing in the walkway in front of the bleachers. They'd be much better off with one of those big cheeleading cones and a freshman with a good set of pipes.

Once you've given up trying to hear the announcer, you can still get a good laugh out of the sound system when they call the 50/50. It usually goes something like this: 4 guys each think that they have it won, but are begging the announcer to read the number off again because none of them are sure they heard it right. So all of a sudden, from several different places, you hear "Read it again!, What was the number?" Again!" Good times. Also, have you ever looked at the PA system? It looks like it belongs in Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, or at least some potheads dorm room in the mid-70's. It's that eerie white ball that hangs from the ceilling above the court. See, you didn't know what that was, did you? And that's because you ruled out the possibility it was a speaker, since no audible sound ever came out of it.

Every once in a while they get someone who can really belt out the national anthem, which is really the one thing you can hear over that system, since everyone in the whole place is silent. And that's when you realize that not only is the system not nearly loud enough, but that it overloads almost immediately, resulting in a national anthem that sounds like it's coming over a weak AM radio station. Cracks me up everytime.

2) The scoreboards. Now, I know that North Colonie rejected about 15 years ago the idea of letting Pepsi buy us brand new scoreboards in exchange for putting some Pepsi advertising on them. It's a debatable policy and I have no problem with the school's position on it. But I think someone decided that in rejecting Pepsi we were vouching long-term for the existing scoreboards. I am not making it up when I say that I believe those scoreboards are the original new gym scoreboards that were put in when they built the place in 1973. Have to be. And the only reason I believe they were new then is because they aren't the analog clock scoreboards like you see in Hoosiers or other movies that take place in the early 50's.

And there's nothing wrong with having purely functional scoreboards. We don't need a whole lot of extra information. The current boards give us the score, the time, the quarter, and tell you who is in the bonus. Not bad. But wouldn't it be great to have a little more info? And I don't mean a Pepsi-arena style monstrosity. Maybe just the number of team fouls - or an electronic list with the numbers of the players currently in the game and their scoring totals? Or how about just a clock that ran in tenths of a second near the end of the game? Some kind of upgrade would be nice.

3) The rope/bars/everything that hangs down near the hoops. This is a pet peeve of mine. How many times have you seen a ball take a high bounce off the rim, go straight up, but then get called dead because it hits that roping garbage that hangs down from the ceiling. And I'm not talking about balls that are going over the backboard or anything, I'm talking about balls that might otherwise go in the hoop and definitely would come down in play. Remember, we have a kid whose 6'10" this year. Rebounds are our speciality. We don't want shots getting blown dead that could turn into putback baskets or fast breaks. For fans, there's a similar but different problem - if you sit in the Shaker "adult" section, many of the upper rows have no unobstructed views of the scoreboard. There's 9 seconds left in the CBA game last weekend, I'm about to have a heart attack, and my seat did not allow me to see either clock without crouching down. Unreal.

Additionally, you might have listed: the bleachers themselves, the doors, those dungeon-like garages in the corners (did you know one of them used to be the weight room!!!!), the ceiling, the sidecourt basketball hoops, and the lighting. Until about two years ago, you would have obviously had to mention the banners, but that was taken care of nicely.

All this said, I have to confess: I really like the new gym. I like it because it's huge for a high school gym but it's cozy to watch a game at. It doesn't have the incredible architecture of, say, Troy High's gym, but it has a certain character to it. I like that there's a 20 degree difference between the temp on the floor and the temp at the top of the bleachers. I like being able to adjust the temperature by changing the elevation of where i'm sitting. I like how loud it gets in H-gym. Given the weakness of the speaker system, you wouldn't think the place has good acoustics. But for one particular task - screaming and shouting - the place is built like a bandbox.

And you know what - I like a lot of the imperfections of the place. I like how the bleachers really creek and moan, and how you can get them to rumble if everyone jumps up and down on them at once. I like how you can't bring food or drinks in there, despite the impossibility of making the bleachers much more decrepit than they already are. I like how the lighting puts dead shadows on much of the court, and it's fun to watch opposing point guards strain to see our scoreboards at the ends of quarters. Put it this way - despite what I said above, I'd be sad to see the place fixed up.

Ok. Moving on. One of my favorite thing about the new gym is how, culturally-speaking, nothing ever changes there. Let me give you two examples:

1) The seating arrangement will never change: The sun will rise 10 years from now, and the sun will set 10 years from now, and by god I will be able to predict the location of where people are sitting in that gym down to the row. I could skip the next ten years worth of games, and the following would still be true:

SECTION A) The student section would be the quarter of the bleachers that is closest to the hallway on the side of the hallway that heads toward the pool. Within the student section, the rows go something like this:

lowest rows: empty or adults who have a relationship to the school but didn't go there and never had kids who went there, sometimes peolple who want to chat/flirt with/observe the cheerleaders.

lower middle rows: upperclassmen who like watching basketball but don't like cheering that much.

upper middle rows: the rowdiest fans who love to cheer and get into the game. They usually stand up full time. Definitely the cool place to be at the game. [for my in-depth review of student section cheering, look here]

one or two highest rows: underclassmen or junior high schoolers who know its cool to be in the upper middle rows, but are too scared to actually stand there with the older kids. That's the one that makes me laugh every time. You can take it to the bank: the upper left corner of the student bleachers will have some kid there who half watches the game and half watches the upper middle row rowdy cheerers, wishing he were standing three rows down. Good times.

SECTION B) The Shaker "adult" section is directly across the court from the Shaker student section. Here you usually get the following setup:

lowest rows: older folks who are regulars at the game, perhaps their son used to play for the team or perhaps they've been coming for many years.

lower middle rows: parents of kids on the team, parents of kids on the JV team, and assorted family members.

upper middle rows: visiting team fans who screwed up their seating assignments, parents with little kids that wanted to "sit high up," and bloggers whose wives like it better up top because its warm.

highest rows: people who like to sit with their back on the wall, people who like it really hot, and people who got there late.

SECTION C) The visiting section, next to the Shaker Adult section: I know nothing about this section - I've never sat there, and it's been 10 years since I sat in the student section that would give me a good view of it; I can't remember it's usual composition.

SECTION D) The "other" section: This section is the wild card. Sometimes it's empty. Sometimes it has adult fans of the visiting team. Sometimes it has 5 little kids running around while their parents neglect them. Usually you'll also get two or three young teenagers who have decided it's fun to sit in the top row of an empty section. Wierd. But most of the time it's pretty empty, except at big games. Which is great, because it's the section closest to the visiting cheerleaders. Hillarious.

2) The concession stand will never change: Never. They can move it out of the old concession office down the hall, they can ban food in gym, they can hire new workers. Whatever. That concession stand will NEVER change. Do you realize that a candy bar there costs the same now as it did in 1992? I am not making that up. 50 cents. That's the price. Either we were getting absurdly ripped off during the first Bush administration, or they have somehow forgotten how profit works there. Granted, I have a limited sample size. I stopped ordering hot dogs at Shaker games around my 9th birthday, and my candy habits are not particularly diverse. But there's one thing I know: the price of a Twix will always be 50 cents. Even if they have to take a loss on it.

Secondly, they will NEVER figure out how to make the line go efficiently there. I think they got rid of the old concession booth because a) after 20 years, they realized it made no sense to use the old gym's concession booth that was 1/8 mile away from the new gym, and b) the lines at the old concession made that little hallway so tightly packed that no one wanted to try to buy a Twix at halftime anymore, or at least i didn't. However, they were wrong. The reason that line doesn't move is because on one side of booth are 150 teenagers trying to get to the front of the line quickly, and on the other side of the booth are (what I think are) 4 volunteers who each work the booth a few times a year. It's not a good situation, particularly because there's only really two points in time that you have to deal with a rush: right before the game starts and during halftime. The kids will never change, but the volunteers always start to get the hang of things right near the end of halftime. Then the rush is gone, and at the next game the wheel is reinvented. Throw on the food ban in the gym, and now you have people standing around in the line who are eating, and it's just a mess.

Ahhh, H-gym. We sure do love ya.

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