Middletown prepares for historic weekend of high school basketball

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- Take one step into Wade E. Miller Gymnasium and you are transported back to the 1950s.

Take one step into the new Wade E. Miller Arena and you realize this is the immediate future.

It may certainly be considered the new crown jewel of high school basketball venues in Southwest Ohio this winter. 

The past meets the future this weekend in Middletown. And what a 48 hours it will be for the Middies.

“I think emotionally it’s going to be a heck of a ride,” Middletown boys’ basketball coach Darnell Hoskins said.

On Friday night, Wade E. Miller Gymnasium will host the final high school basketball game at the famed venue when the Middies (1-1) play host to Hamilton (2-0) in the varsity game at 7:30 p.m. The game will be streamed live on shcog.com.

The freshman and junior varsity games are 4:30 and 6 p.m., respectively, on the middle school campus.

“I think our kids live for this,” Middletown Athletic Director Aaron Zupka said.

Wade E. Miller Gymnasium, which opened in 1952, has a capacity of about 2,600 and there were still 1,000 tickets remaining as of Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s not a normal Friday GMC game,” Hamilton coach Sean Van Winkle said. “It’s special. It’s definitely a huge game for everyone.”

Zupka expects capacity crowds Friday and Saturday.

“The players have heard so much about the mystique of The Miller and players that have come before them and paying homage to those guys,” Hoskins said.

“So closing it down in a fashion this town would be proud of is one thing and then the very next night revving it back up with the enthusiasm and energy level perspective to christen this building in the right way as well. It’s a great responsibility for such a young and an inexperienced team. But one I think that they are all excited and looking forward to obviously.”

The old gymnasium played host to so many memorable games and players over the years including Middletown legend and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas

"It was just a unique aura that existed then that kind of permeated everything," Lucas told WCPO.com earlier this week. "You could feel the tingle of it when you walked into the gymnasium. People were expecting some great things to happen and obviously they always did."

The Middies had a 76-game overall win streak from 1955 to 1958 including state titles in ’56 and ’57.

Lucas will be in attendance along with members of some of the state championship teams from the 1950s along with all-state players over the years and other dignitaries.

Hamilton and Middletown will wear custom 1950s-era throwback uniforms for the varsity game. Vintage T-shirts and other gear will be available for sale that night.

Photo opportunities will be available for fans on the floor after the game Friday night. The old gymnasium is scheduled to be razed sometime during the fall of 2018 so this will be a final opportunity to see a varsity basketball game. 

The final game will be almost 65 years to the day of the first game at the gymnasium. The Middies beat Miamisburg 84-59 Dec. 5, 1952 and went on to win the state championship of 1952-53, their fourth title.

The plan is for Lucas to autograph the player jerseys used Friday night and have them placed for sale on Saturday at the new arena.

The Middies open their brand-new, state-of-the-art 2,130-seat arena Saturday.

After breaking ground in May 2016, Middletown officials can’t wait for the games on Saturday.

“It’s a truly community event from top to bottom,” Zupka said. “Nothing brings people together like athletics and some of the things athletics can do for a community.”

The arena, which has a 94-foot floor instead of 84 feet at the old gymnasium, will feature many unique amenities such as professional-style basketball hoops, four 9-by-12-foot LED video boards, a strength and performance center, spirit store, professional lighting systems and a hospitality room.

There is also improved parking and accessibility for fans. And there are plenty of references to Middletown’s storied basketball tradition.

Jerry Lucas Court is prominently displayed near the baseline. The seven state basketball championship trophies will also be on display. The custom wooden locker spaces from the old gymnasium are already in place in the spacious and newly carpeted locker rooms at the arena.

The Middletown girls’ junior varsity and varsity teams will host Colerain at 12:30/2 p.m. Saturday. The anticipation is thick for the Middies (0-3 as of Wednesday morning) as they prepare for the Cardinals (0-3 as of Wednesday morning).

Middletown girls’ basketball coach Kevin Aldridge admits he is expecting to burn an early timeout in the first quarter Saturday so his team to calm down.

“I don’t think they’ve really grasped the historical moment that ‘you are actually going to be the first to play the first to play on this floor’” Aldridge said. “There is going to be a lot of hoopla but we have to take care of business.”

The boys high school varsity team will play Lima Senior at 7:30 p.m., Saturday after the freshman and junior varsity levels play at 4:30 and 6 p.m., respectively. 

There will be plenty of unique festivities Saturday with player introductions, a recorded message from Pro Football Hall of Famer and Middletown alum Cris Carter and a halftime show featuring the Firecrackers.

“All in all it’s going to be a special event,” Zupka said. “I think that’s something we’ll look back 50 or 70 years down the road and you will say you were at this event and something special.”

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