Lansing basketball returns to Intermediate gym
Carol Caplinger's eyes turn a bit misty as she gazes into the gymnasium at Lansing Intermediate School and catches a second of varsity basketball action between Lansing High's girls and Basehor-Linwood.
That quick glimpse conjures up pleasant memories for Caplinger of the 1987-88 season - the final year varsity hoops were played in the old gym before the new high school opened. Caplinger coached the Lansing girls that year, in a magical season where the Lions went 14-8, won the Kaw Valley League title and were champions at the Immaculata Tournament.
"That was a double-overtime win," Caplinger recalled of the IMAC Tournament, as though it happened yesterday. "I still have people come up to me about it. I had a guy at Price Chopper stop me one day and say, 'You know, one of the best games ever was the IMAC Tournament and the final game.' And then he went on from the 1:47 mark down to the end of the game and recounted what happened.
"That was a good time, that season. We were anxious for the new building to be built, but we were putting together wins and that kind of thing, so it was a good time."
It also would be the final time high school varsity basketball would be played in the old school - which now serves as Lansing Intermediate School - for 15 years before a broken water main pipe at the high school damaged the basketball court and forced games to return to the old school.
Good for the girls
Caplinger coached the LHS girls' varsity basketball team for five years, with the '87-'88 season being her third season at the helm. She said every team she coached was special, and there was no question she had fond memories of the final season in the old gym.
The success was great, she said, but the cause of her enjoyment was her players - in particular, seniors Debbie Brown, Tina Fasone, Tricia Mills and Becky Smith.
They were so eager to learn, so willing to lay it all on the line, such a close-knit group, Caplinger said.
"The just soaked up coaching like a sponge," Caplinger said. "Sometimes you have teams where the kids don't gel, or there's jealousy, but those four girls were good friends to begin with."
Added into the mix, she said, was talented freshman Karen Colbert, a lights-out three-point shooter. Given the fact that that season was the first year for the three-point arc in high school games, that made Colbert an absolute gem to have.
"She was 50 percent from the field on three-pointers," Caplinger said. "She was deadly. We didn't have any plays for three-pointers, but if she was out there we'd tell her to take a step back and shoot it."
When Colbert nailed one of those threes, or Fasone hauled down a rebound late in a game, or Mills sank her trademark baseline jumper, or Smith dished a dazzling pass to Brown for an easy layup, the gym would absolutely shake.
The gym was dark, dingy and cramped, but it was built for noise. The court felt like it was in a pit. The seating was up above with students pressed almost to the ceiling. With architecture like that, even a small crowd could make a ruckus.
"The sound just reverberates in there," said Caplinger, who still teaches at the Intermediate School. "You were down on the floor, and it had an echo effect in there. It was a rumble, even for the girls' games."
The girls had another good season the following year - the first in the present high school gym - but something just wasn't the same.
Similar to University of Kansas fans' affection for historic Allen Fieldhouse, Caplinger's girls missed their old barn.
"I remember the girls saying to me one night after school that it just didn't seem like home," she said. "Here was this big new beautiful building, and I don't think they liked it."
Tough for the boys
Whereas the girls may have preferred the old gym, the boys seemed to fare better when they moved away.
There's no telling exactly why the boys struggled before moving to the new building. Sure, there were some good years, but the better part of a 39-year absence from the state tournament took place there.
Chris Elliott remembers vividly the last year the varsity boys played in the old gym. It was his first year at the helm of the program. The Lions went 7-14 that year, two years before Elliott would guide them to 19 wins and a state tournament berth.
Jeff Kimball was the star of the '87-'88 boys' squad. As the teams' top three-point threat, he could bring the crowd into a frenzy in a hurry when point guard Brian Dudley would find him wide-open beyond the arc in the corner.
"He had more three-point goals for us than two-point goals," said Elliott, who played his high school ball for LHS in that gym from 1972-75. "Pretty much his job for us was to get to the corner and shoot it. That was pretty much our fast break. Once he'd see we were getting the ball, he was heading up court and getting down in the corner."
Elliott, now an assistant coach at Immaculata and teacher at Lansing Middle School, said the old gym provided the ultimate home-court advantage for a variety of reasons. First was the crowd factor. Second, he said, was the band.
"When I was the JV coach, the band was always right above the boys' locker room," he said. "When I became the head coach, I got it changed to where they went over the girls' locker room (where the visiting team stayed) so the visitors had to fight that at halftime. You'd have to scream and yell at them even if you weren't mad at them, just so they could hear you."
The new class
For much the same reason that Caplinger's teams didn't like the new gym, the current Lions aren't sure what to think of the old one.
Poor lighting, elevated seating and a scratchy old baseball sound system make the gym feel like it was molded from the classic hoops flick "Hoosiers." It's not flashy like today's gyms. It lacks upscale locker rooms, and the floor is slick and in desperate need of being resurfaced.
But its classic feel has won over some of the current generation of Lions.
"We'd much prefer to be on our own court where the lights are bright, the stands are bigger and the court's bigger," senior Monique Richardson said. "But this is a change with different seating, which is cool, and it sounds a lot louder in here. It looks so old-school. Especially the sound system. The radio sounds really old and scratchy. But it's fun, and it gets you more hyped because the crowd gets really loud in here.
Ironically, while the present atmosphere mimicks the way it was 15 years ago, the results are, too, to some extent. The girls seem to be turning a corner after last year's struggles. So far they're 2-1 in the Intermediate School gym, including a one-point loss to Bonner Springs on a buzzer-beater.
The girls' first-year coach, Keith Andrews, called it a "shooter's gym."
"We get a big crowd on a Friday night with a little more yelling, a little more screaming. I like that," he said. "And it's a good shooting gym. I don't know if we've proved that yet, but sooner or later, whether it's Riann Deere, Katie Nietzke, or one of the Darrow girls (sisters Rachel and Amanda), somebody's going to have a good shooting night. They're just going to fill it up, and that's going to be the ghost of the gym."
Meanwhile, much like teams of the past, the boys have struggled this season and are 0-2 in the old building. Coach Don Allen said he loved the atmosphere the change of scenery has provided, but he wished the result would change.
"At some point I'd like to win over there in that Intermediate gym," he said. "We've had a great bunch of fans show up over there. We get a fantastic atmosphere over there. It'd be nice to win one."
The boys have three home games remaining at the Intermediate gym. The girls have two. After that, they'll again close the doors on the old gym, and games will move back to the high school next year.