Memories of the WHS gymnasium
On Monday night I witnessed my 140th — and last — varsity basketball game in the current Washington High School gymnasium. Next season, the Demon hoops teams will move into a sparkling new gym across town inside the new high school that is currently being constructed.
The Washington boys’ basketball team lost the final game inside the gym on Monday night, falling to Keokuk 67-54 in a Class 3A District 11 semifinal to end the Demons’ season. Washington played a forgettable game, and it will not be one of the memories I will hold dear of that gym.
But here are a few memories I do have of covering athletics in the old gym.
There was the bizarre game between the Washington and Mt. Pleasant boys’ basketball teams at the end of the 2005-06 season. Fans from both rival schools were jampacked into the gymnasium, to the point where people had to be turned away at the door. During the game, play had to be stopped because of a bat that kept swooping across the gym floor. It was eventually swatted down by players using towels and captured by Eddie Jones, who was bitten and had to be taken to the hospital for rabies shots.
The Panthers won the game 63-62 on a late basket by Jacob Rohde, but Washington’s Shawn Martin predicted that if the two teams met again, the Demons would win. The teams met in the substate final, and the Demons stormed back from a 12-point deficit in the game’s final seven minutes for a 56-55 win to earn a trip to state.
There was the game in 2010 where Kaleb Rich and Isaac Gardner combined to pour in a school-record 15 3-pointers during an 80-50 win over visiting Meskwaki Settlement School. Rich, who made eight 3-pointers, tied the school record for trifectas held by Matt Kruse and Jake Koller.
The year before, Alex Vogel banked in an 8-footer at the buzzer to lift the Demons to a 53-51 win over Albia. The Blue Demons were holding for the final shot, but Vogel intercepted a pass and raced down the court to score just before the buzzer.
This year’s Coaches vs. Cancer event was amazing. Coaches Bryce Smeins, Ross Anderson and Jay Zieglowsky competed in a dance contest to raise money for the fight against cancer, and head girls’ basketball coach Phil Long dyed his silver hair black to raise money. A large number of athletes and students also shaved their heads to raise money. It was a fun day, punctuated by two Demon victories.
I’ll never forget this year’s student section. They planned a number of theme nights, including Nerd Night and Superhero Night, and I even came dressed as Clark Kent to the surprise of the students. The cherry on top was a night in my honor, and I was very humbled.
But my favorite, although bittersweet, memory of that gym wasn’t a basketball game. Nor was it a sporting event of any kind. It was Curt Jensen’s funeral.
I only knew Curt Jensen for a short time — one season as the Demons’ head baseball coach. But I quickly learned after his death what he meant to the community of Washington. His funeral had to be held inside the WHS gymnasium to hold all of his loved ones, colleagues and former students. The gym was packed just as full as any Washington-Mt. Pleasant rivalry game, with the pep band playing the school fight song in honor of “Mr. J.” It was a surreal scene.
And one I’ll never forget.