In an age when school districts strive to provide multimillion dollar “multipurpose facilities” it is nice to step into a gym where they appreciate history.
Case in point, Umpire High School.
Now I know what your saying, “Are you out of your mind?!?” (Well that’s the nicest thing I can think of fit to print)
I will admit that most people would rather sit in a dentist chair than travel to Umpire to play in what many describe as a shoe box with a balcony. I on the other hand have developed a love for this old gym.
It may be hard for most to believe, but there was a time when this gymnasium was one of the best in the area. When it opened in 1952 it featured a balcony that wrapped around three sides of the floor and was the first gym in the area to hang fiberglass backboards.
Walking into this gym today it appears much as it did 65 years ago. And for many this is the problem. While the size of the gym is a problem for many, the biggest problem lies within a two foot or so space nestled just inside the boundary line of the floor.
You see, the Umpire Gym still uses a retaining line for inbound plays. For the uninformed, a retaining line is used when a floor is too small to allow space for a player to stand out of bounds during an inbound play. You might think this isn’t fair, but it is legal. The floor is regulation size. However, the bleachers come right to the edge of the floor thus the necessity of the dotted line.
There was a time when the aforementioned dotted line was common in gymnasiums around Arkansas, but as schools strive for bigger and better everything, we saw gyms grow into coliseums and arenas and the need for this little dotted line diminished to almost nothing.
Many a coach has beeen heard warning their players of this archaic historical anomaly as they lead their players into the gym. whispers erupt among the players as they walk past the floor, fingers pointing at the curiosity.
I know this because even in the early 1980’s when I was one of those kids walking into the gym we were constantly reminding ourselves of the need to stay behind the dotted line.
I find it quite poetic that this gym has found itself in such a unique position. According to school officials this is the only gym of its type still in regulation use in Arkansas. An official at the last game I was in there told me he had been told it was the last gym in 40 states to still use a retaining line. I don’t care who you are, that’s special!
To be honest with you this gym is the perfect home for the Umpire Wildcats. Umpire is the poster child for small rural schools who have fought to keep their doors open. They were raising millage rates and encouraging alumni to return as teachers long before school consolidation became a hot button topic in Arkansas. They have fought every step of the way to preserve their identity.
In preserving their identity as a school they have preserved this historical gem of a gymnasium. Even though they are now a part of the Cossatot River School District their isolated location prevents them from joining Wickes and Van Cove at the new consolidated campus. This also has inadvertently preserved a gym that has stood the test of time and continues to make memories for kids from all over the area.
While other schools are striving to grow “bigger and better” Umpire clings to what they have. Yes, growth and change may provide more opportunities and draw attention to your school, but sometimes the solution is as simple as a dotted line. The school has become somewhat of a curiosity similar to that dotted line just inside the boundary.
They are able to maintain enough of what they need to provide an education for their students without bussing them miles away.
Yes, it’s inconvenient and it may not be practical, but it is what it is. And it’s a part of Umpire.
I talked to the principal and asked him if there were any plans to replace the gym. Thankfully he was adamant that the gym would stay as is. Well, they are looking at adding LED lighting and resurfacing the floor, but the gym will still remain much as it has for over 65 years.
Loud and proud and just a little too small for most people’s taste. Just like the Wildcats who have seen four generations of players step out on the floor.
This gym and this school should be a beacon of hope for all the small schools in Arkansas who tremble every year the enrollment numbers and test scores are announced. They have faced the worst the world can throw at them and yet they continue to do what they do. Just like the players on the court, they have learned to stay behind their own dotted line so the game can continue.
If you want to find a place to watch a game where you don’t have to worry about getting lost as you try to find your way from your seat to your bathroom, then make your way to Umpire. Get ready to get loud and enjoy some OLD FASHIONED basketball!
Maybe one day they will ask some of us old farts to come take one more trip up and down the floor.
I just hope I can remember to stay behind the dotted line this time!