Muncie Field House
In the last year or so, there has been a lot of discussion about the Muncie Field House (or Fieldhouse, whichever you like). What with the structural issues, Muncie Community School’s money problems, and the storm damage that let torrents of water rush in, there has been no shortage of discussion topics. It seemed like a good time to talk briefly about the history of the building.
The Muncie High School basketball team (not yet known as the Bearcats) was established in 1901. The gymnasium in the high school wasn’t sufficient, so the team wandered from place to place to play home games. They played at Petty Auditorium on East Adams Street, the First Baptist Church gymnasium, outside on a court in the Orchard Place neighborhood, Campbell Auditorium on Broadway (now Martin Luther King Boulevard), the Shirk building on East Jackson Street, the Masonic gym in the Johnson block, and the third floor of the Anthony block on Walnut Street – really, any place they could find a home for a game. The YMCA opened in 1914, and the team found a semi-permanent home. When the second Muncie High School building opened in 1915, the team moved home games into the new gymnasium. It was soon deemed to be too small.
The “M Club” was formed around 1922 to sponsor and support athletics, and one of the first topics of conversation was the need for a gymnasium. A discussion with the school board ensued, and all agreed that a new facility was needed. For various reasons, it didn’t happen, and the team moved to Ball State Teachers College gymnasium for four years. After Muncie Central won the state championship in 1928, talk of a new building was renewed. The Public Schools Extension Association became the non-profit holding corporation in March 1928 and money was secured for what was to be the Vocational and Physical Education Building.
On December 7, 1928, the Field House, as it was commonly called, was dedicated in a game with Anderson High School. The Bearcats won 35 to 24.
Now, let’s back up a few steps and talk about the acquisition of approximately twelve acres of land for the building. The area along North Walnut Street where the Field House stands was home to a lumber yard and several houses. It cost about $125,000 to acquire the land. Of that amount, George and Frances Ball provided $35,000, and, through the YMCA, gave about four acres of land for which they had paid $15,500. In honor of their contribution, the field was named “Ball Recreational Field.” Check out the archway next to the Field House – the name is still there. The school system provided the remainder of the money.
That wasn’t the only involvement of the Ball family, of course. Frank Elliott Ball was a member of the Public Schools Extension Association Directors, the Building Committee, and the Muncie High School Athletic Association.
There’s more to the story, of course. Please come back next month to read about the many community uses of the Field House. It’s been a busy place since that opening night in 1928.