Guest Opinion

Monday, March 14, 2005

Goodbye to The Barn

I've watched with some melancholy, as I'm sure a lot of Iowans have, as the "lasts" begin for Veterans Auditorium in Des Moines.

By next winter, as time for the state wrestling and boys and girls basketball tournaments roll around, the new Wells-Fargo Arena will be complete, and the tourneys will move there.

Vets has been a place where thousands of young Iowans have had, for a few moments, or hours, their time in the spotlight.

The Barn housed concerts, rallies and commercial events. But for many of us, it will forever be known as the closest thing to going to the "show' as baseball players call it - the big time - for young athletes.

Youngsters from towns small and large dreamed of playing on that wood floor. Wrestlers took one more set of stairs and spent one more hour in the weight room, dreaming of a chance to take their place on those eight mats.

For me, the Barn brings back memories as fresh as the past few years and some decades old.

Some of the best games of all time have been played in the Barn. Talk to an Everly resident of a certain age about the building, and certainly the conversation will turn to "the greatest six-on-six basketball game of all time." The 1968 Everly girls basketball team, led by Jeannette Olson, fell to Union Whitten in a 113-107 overtime thriller that year.

This year, talk turns to the Ankeny girls team, rated one of the best in the nation, going for its fourth straight title.

But, folks around here remember more recent thrills with area teams. And we watched just last week as senior Ryan Pratt made his fourth trip to the state wrestling tournament, bringing home a third place medal. That thrill, of standing on the podium with the heavy weight of the medal around his neck, is one Ryan won't ever forget.

For me, a more personal memory dates back farther than that, back to the 1976 "Cardiac Kids" Spencer team that came so heartbreakingly close to taking it all.

Winning overtime game after overtime game to make it to the tourney at all, despite a less than stellar regular season mark, that squad won its opener at Vets in overtime as well.

And then they won again.

And found themselves on the floor at the Barn, playing in the state championship game.

If I close my eyes and really think, I can almost hear that "thump thump" sound the ball made as it echoed off the shining floor. I can feel my young heart thumping in time in my chest. And, I can remember what it felt like to be a young teen, in awe of it all, and in awe of watching my big brother out on the floor.

The Tigers lost, to Forest City (a grudge I hold to this day). My brother, along with teammate Roy Wiggin, made the all-tournament team.

And we all went home to savor the experience and to dream about what nearly was.

Don't say that those experiences are fleeting. They aren't.

I still get misty eyed as the parade of teams hits the floor at halftime of the girls championship game. I miss the lit-up state map showing where the teams are from. I think popcorn truly tastes best cold and just slightly old.

The new Wells Fargo Arena will be a beauty, I'm sure, state-of-the-art. But, it's going to take fifty years, and fifty years of youngsters bringing their hopes and dreams and fans, to make it half the cathedral to excellence of the old Barn, sitting next door.