Since opening in the early 1940s, the gym at Gresham High School gave the Gophers a distinct home-court advantage.
The low ceilings seemed to trap noise. Bleachers came up to within a few feet of the sideline. During one period, a stage near one baseline allowed students to cheer from close range behind the basket.
“It was an awesome home court,” said former Gresham boys basketball coach Larry Knudsen, who led the Gophers to a state runner-up finish in 1992. “Even on the nights with smaller crowds, the lower level would have kids right on the floor. It used to get really hot, too.”
For all its charm, though, the gym was far past its expiration date. It was torn down last year as part of a school renovation, and in its place has risen a sparkling new facility that will better serve the school's teams.
Athletic director Ty Gonrowski said the transition to the new gym this year will be dramatic, much like the University of Oregon going from McArthur Court to Matthew Knight Arena.
“The old gym was homey and it felt like Gresham High School, but there were things that needed to be updated,” Gonrowski said. “And this is an update and beyond that. It's going to be amazing for the kids, amazing for our teams. It'll be outstanding for the community. It'll be a great place to come watch a game. It's a huge bonus for us.”
The new gym was built on the same spot, but the orientation was changed to north-south. A bright, airy lobby is at the south entrance, decorated with boards from the old bleachers.
Most of the old high school was torn down and rebuilt thanks to a Gresham-Barlow School District bond that passed in 2017. The old gym was demolished last summer, forcing the boys basketball team to play all its home games at Barlow and the girls basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams to use the school's small auxiliary gym.
“Last year was difficult for a lot of teams,” Gonrowski said.
Construction on the new gym – which is 14,157 square feet and fits two full basketball courts – accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis, allowing the school to move up the timeline for its use.
“If we are able to play in some Season 2 stuff, we think we should be able to have the majority, or possibly all of the games, in our own gym this next year,” Gonrowski said. “Having that feeling of, 'This is ours,' and defending your home turf, is such a big thing.”
The weight room, which had been housed in a separate building behind the football grandstand, has been moved inside and will overlook the main gym from upstairs. It is 3,200 square feet and includes a two-lane track for 40-yard dashes and 20 yards of artificial turf down the center.
The gym ceiling has hoists for wrestling mats, eliminating the need to carry them from the wrestling room across a hallway.
With large windows, the new gym will have more natural light. Large bleachers are on one side with a smaller set on the other. The “G” logo is at center court with “GRESHAM” on the baselines and “GOPHERS” in giant block lettering on one wall.
Gonrowski imagined what it will be like when Gresham's rising boys basketball team, a source of pride for the school, takes the floor.
“Especially with the new gym, there's going to be buzz for kids wanting to get there and be able to watch,” he said. 'I can't wait until we're all back and good to go, and see the place rocking, and have people in blue and white all through the stands. It's going to be more fan-friendly. It's going to be more fun to participate in for the kids.”
Gonrowski said he anticipates that the gym – as well as the new auditorium – will be able to play host to more and bigger events, not just for the school, but for the community.
“This facility is one that will be top-notch for at least East County, if not all across the area,” he said. “It's going to be shiny and new and exciting. When people can walk through and see it, they'll realize this was a wonderful thing for the community to be able to provide.”