Enter the Duver Gymnasium at Central Junior High in downtown Lawrence and the first thing you might notice about the court is its age. The gym is well worn, creaking under the indelible pressure of footprints left from generations of games gone by. Look a little further though and the dust and the dents turn into history.
On Thursday night the old Central gymnasium hosted its very last game, and what a game it was. Fittingly it was the home favorite Central that took home the gym's very last victory. Central turned an almost 30-point loss to West the last time these two teams faced off into a 9-point victory 57-48 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
"It was an awesome victory," Central head coach Gary Hall said. "We tried to make the boys understand the history of this game. Before the game started we dedicated this game to all those players who have played here in the past."
Listen hard enough and you might just hear the echoes of generations worth of young players who set foot on Central's court. For those who were fortunate enough to be in the crowd at Central's Thursday night ninth-grade basketball game against West, the impact of history was felt.
Chris Wildgen started off the game on the right foot for Central as he drove in a three-point basket and Sean Brown hit minutes later with a second. Chuck Hunter also sunk a third three-pointer in from far behind the arc. The trio of three-point buckets garnered Central nine of their 15 points in the first quarter.
West held its own against Central when Marcus Spates pushed through for a bucket. Spates also answered Central's trio of three-pointers with a three-pointer of his own minutes into the first. Spates' efforts were not enough to beat Central's power shooting and West finished the first, four points behind Central.
Hall said Central's early lead was the culmination of a season's worth of fine-tuning raw skills.
"Our focus this year was to help them become better basketball players," Hall said.
With Central demonstrating their focus in the first, the second quarter brought a turnaround for West as Preston Randolph punched in a bucket. Grahm Saunders captured a pivotal rebound shot that led to a layup from Chase Hoag. After the ball flew into the hands of Kenton Riley he sunk the only three-pointer for West in the second quarter. Hoag also captured a crucial rebound bucket for the team before the clock ran out.
Hunter demonstrated his three-point prowess by sinking another for Central early in the second quarter. Some critical misses on the part of West allowed both Jack Sanner and Denzell Payne tip-ins. It was as if history was smiling upon them, because Central ended the first half with a five point lead over West, 31-26.
West found themselves playing a game of catch up in the third. Players started the quarter by moving the ball from the outside to the inside for a Hoag layup. Spates and Riley tag teamed it to bring West out of their point deficit and the team marched on into the fourth quarter two points ahead of Central.
With Central and West taking turns holding the lead, it was up to some deciding buckets in the fourth quarter to crown the winner. A layup from Sean Brown tied Central with West to heat things up.
A basket from Hoag and a free throw from Cameron Schmidt gave West a three-point lead, but a three-pointer from Wilgen tied the two teams again. The teams remained tied until Hunter sunk a jumper to give Central the lead. Hunter really hit his mark in the fourth quarter snatching five buckets for Central to drive them ahead.
With Central in a nail-biting lead, the crowd was up on their feet and screaming for victory. Perhaps it was the loudest and most emotional three minutes in Central gym's history, but the crowd wasn't about to go home from the last game at the old Central gym without a home team win. With just seconds left on the clock West ran out of chances and succumbed to a nine-point loss to Central.
Amidst a crowd of well-wishers after the game Hall said it was important that the team ended their season and Duver Gym's last game with the win.
"That fact that it was the last game on this court added to the victory," Hall said. "It was important to do a good job tonight, and I think we put in a good effort."
One by one Central's exuberant players, family and fans drifted out into the waiting night, and as the lights dimmed on the Central gymnasium for the very last time you could almost hear the celebrations of victories gone by.