The Many Uses of the Muncie Field House
It was built for basketball, of course, but for so much more. Check out the original configuration of the building and you’ll find classrooms for woodworking, drafting, building trades, and auto mechanics. There was a print shop, an electrical shop, and a mechanical shop. These classrooms, configured in a number of ways, were used for many years by students from Muncie Central High School and by McKinley Junior High School.
Center stage, however, was devoted to basketball. The Field House has always been the home court for Muncie Central basketball, but it hasn’t only been that school’s home court. Muncie Southside High School used the Field House for many years, as did Muncie Northside High School. Many county tourneys were held there, bringing in students from Yorktown, Cowan, Wes-Del, Delta, Wapahani, Daleville, and bygone schools such as Gaston, Albany, Eaton, Center, Selma, and more. Sectional and regional tournaments filled the building to capacity for many years.
The Harlem Globetrotters played at the Field House a number of times. After one game, the Muncie Evening Press noted that “A gang of athletic magicians spoofed their opponents and laid 8,000 in the aisles Tuesday night in a field house exhibition . . .”
But from the start, the Muncie Field House was also a community building, which hosted many types of events. One of the first was “Policemen’s Frolics” held just a few months after the Field House opened. That must have been a big night with entertainment such as the Ten Happiness Boys, Grace Smith and friends doing dances of the Southland, the circus act The Six Kings of Risley, and more. The police officer who sold the most tickets was awarded a pearl-handled Colt revolver.
In October 1939, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at an event sponsored by the Optimist Club. Local members delivered tickets to the Indianapolis club, and a special interurban was chartered to bring those members to Muncie. In her short time in Muncie, Mrs. Roosevelt posed with endurance flyers Robert McDaniels and Kelvin Baxter, was interviewed by newspaper reporters, and visited with many children. During World War II, comedians Abbott and Costello appeared at the Field House to promote the sale of war bonds. In 1955, the first of about ten Easter Pageants was held there. Just a few other events include dog shows, U.A.W. meetings, religious crusades, Muncie Symphony Orchestra Pops Concerts, Army-Navy “E” Award presentations, and Junior Achievement trade shows. In the 1960s the Field House hosted the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars featuring acts such as Herman’s Hermits, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and Bobby Vee.
And then there is the Christmas Sing, a tradition that almost didn’t happen this year due to damage to the Field House. The first Christmas Sing took place in December 1935. It was the Great Depression, and the community needed some Christmas cheer. It was quite a production with, according to an article in the December 18, 1935 edition of the Muncie Evening Press, with “Six hundred singers from school choruses, as many voices from the choirs of local churches and musical organizations of Muncie and other cities will be accompanied by an orchestra, approaching symphonic proportions . . .” Ball State Teachers College choirs also participated. E. Arthur Ball entertained visiting state officials with a dinner at the Hotel Roberts then gave opening remarks at the program. The audience participated in singing “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World.” Organist Dessa Byrd of Indianapolis played the organ.
Each year during World War II, there was discussion about canceling the program because of wartime restriction, but each year the decision was made that the show must go on. The only cancellation occurred in 1977, because of bad weather. Luckily, this year Ball State University was able to offer Worthen Arena, and the show continued to go on. We’ll see what happens next.