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Central Catholic The Pit

A view of The Pit, former home of Central Catholic High School basketball. The venerable old gymnasium has been gone for 13 years, yet still has a life and mystique all its own.

The drive along Center Street has become routine in 37 years of chasing stories and pounding keyboards. Frequently it is the path back to The Pantagraph and after a while, the car and the mind shift into autopilot.

Yet, there is an occasional twinge of nostalgia in the 700 block. To the left is Holy Trinity Catholic Church. To the right is a garden and small shed. It is a quiet, tranquil patch of land, but if you turn down the radio and roll down the windows, you can almost hear the cheers.

Some of the best moments in those 37 years resonate on the turf where vegetables now grow. Thoughts of them come back without notice … not every day or even every week, but enough to stir the memories.

“The Pit,” the voice in the head says. “I miss that place.”

It has been 13 years since the final buzzer of the final game at the longtime home of Central Catholic High School basketball (and Trinity before that). The Saints played games in the small and wonderfully raucous gymnasium for 75 years before relocating in 2003 to a new building on Airport Road.

It became known as “The Pit” sometime in the 1970s when its most frequent inhabitant, 39-year head basketball coach John Snyder, began calling it that. When Snyder retired as coach in 1997, it was named John R. Snyder Gymnasium. Even he still called it The Pit.

A testament to its staying power is that just this week, in the swelter of June, thoughts of The Pit crept in one morning on the way to work. And that on Friday, former Central standout Jason Sproull updated his profile picture on Facebook with a photo of The Pit.

You don’t get that with many gyms. This one has a life and mystique all its own, 13 years after the wrecking ball. It begs for a Facebook page and/or Twitter handle … #pit.

Could be the sweat beading on the forehead this week steered thoughts to The Pit. It was a boiler room with bleachers. The long-standing rumor was Snyder, also Central’s athletic director at the time, would crank up the temperature in the gym to make visitors uncomfortable.

“It could have been John. Or, it could have been John telling the janitor to do it,” former Saints’ star Matt Messamore told The Pantagraph in 2003. “I just know it was always warm in The Pit.”

Not sure if it worked on opponents, though a good number wilted down the stretch of games. It absolutely worked on Pantagraph reporters, who would return to the office 15 pounds lighter.

“You lost weight?”

“No, just covered Central tonight.”


Central alums will tell you the heat was part of its charm. So was the limited seating, the balconies on either side, the close proximity of fans to the floor. It was everything you want in a home court, unless you value breathing.

Games there were a test of stamina and will. They also were uniquely entertaining. Some of it was Snyder, whose tie was always askew with his shirttail escaping from every angle. Then the game would start.

He would live and die with every possession, break for halftime and do it all again. By the end, he looked like he’d gone 15 rounds with the heavyweight champ and his voice was shot.

It had fought gallantly to be heard, but in tight quarters with screaming fans and a pep band blaring from the stage at the east end, there was no way.

The Pit had an incredible set of pipes, generating decibel levels rivaling rock concerts and rocket launches. You go to a lot of gyms in 37 years and none has been able to match the din of The Pit. Of all there is to miss about the place, the noise is No. 1.

Word is it’s gone now. Yet, the ears still ring and if you ease off the pedal on the way by, occasionally you hear the roar. It may not be today or tomorrow, but soon.

Long live The Pit.

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Randy Kindred is at Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: @pg_kindred


Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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