Auditorium 1950 - 2008
Ripley County Basketball Shrine Closes Its Doors
By Ken Sheets
Tyson Auditorium (former home of the Versailles Lions 1950-1966 and current home of the South Ripley Raiders 1967-2008) closed its doors for the final time this past season. The first game played at Tyson was on November 1, 1950 when the Versailles Lions hosted the Milan Indians. The final game pitted arch rivals South Ripley and the Jac-Cen-Del Eagles on February 22, 2008. It’s ironic that these two teams closed the shrine gym as they were rivals back before consolidation. Versailles which fed into South Ripley and Osgood which is part of Jac-Cen-Del were bitter rivals in the years long before the two consolidated schools existed. The Versailles-Osgood game known as the “Turkey Shootout” was always played the Wednesday, today Tuesday, before Thanksgiving weekend. This game was carried over when the two new schools were formed.
Tyson Auditorium was built in 1949-1950 at the cost of $178,000. Of the total cost, $118,000 was contributed by the Tyson fund and $60,000 by Johnson Township of Ripley County. The overall size of the gym was 105’ by 165’ and the playing floor was 84’ by 50’. The seating capacity was 2,200. The seats were arranged in a horse shoe form with a stage on one end. There were 11 rows throughout the gymnasium. The height of the ceiling was 22’. In addition of the gym were five classrooms, a band room, and a concession area. The dressing rooms, equipment room and coach’s office were located under one side of the bleachers connected by a long tunnel with entries at both ends of the tunnel. The general contractor was Reep and Mundt Company of Columbus, Indiana. The architectural firm was Greensburg Engineering of Greensburg, Indiana. The attorney was Ewing Wright and building superintendents were Harry Ricketts and Ralph W. Evans.
The auditorium was named after Jim “Uncle Jim” Tyson one of the founders of the Walgreen Drug Company. Tyson established a trust fund for his boyhood home, Versailles. The fund is administered by the Tyson Fund Committee. In fact he built Tyson United Methodist Church in honor of his mother, the town library, the old Versailles High School, and the Versailles Water Works. Tyson gave liberally of his fortunes to many other projects in Versailles. Even today the fund provides money to different groups and projects in Versailles.
Tyson had a mystique. When the gym was first built, it was a palace for basketball in Ripley County. In fact, it was the finest gym of its kind in this part of the state. It seated more people than the population of Versailles as did many other gyms in basketball crazed Indiana. One of the reasons why the town fathers wanted to build the gym was to get the county tourney and sectional away from Batesville. They succeeded as the tournaments were held at Tyson during the 50’s. Soon after the gym was built, all the area teams were anxious to play in the new facility and get some playing on the tourney floor. Those schools included Holton, Milan, Osgood, New Marion, Cross Plains, Napoleon and others. Several years you could watch a game in Tyson just about any night of the week. One season, Versailles played 14 games in Tyson including the tourneys. As a result, the home floor advantage began to work for the Versailles Lions and later the South Ripley Raiders. One would have to think that it was safe to say that the Lions and Raiders won a vast majority of the games playing in the “friendly confines” of Tyson Auditorium.
Tyson was a great place to play games. It was a good spectator gym. There was not a bad seat in the house and they were all permanent seats, not the rollaways that you see in the modern gyms of today. It truly did provide a home floor advantage. When you had a big crowd and a close game, the noise level was unbelievable.
The Ripley County Tourney and Sectional were the big events each year in Tyson. Seats were added on the stage so 200 or so more tickets could be sold. To get a ticket was an adventure. Back in those days the eight schools had drawings for tickets. All sessions were usually sellouts. If one did not have a ticket you would have to have “connections” to get hold of one. The schools that took part in the tourneys were the Versailles Lions, Milan Indians, Osgood Cowboys, Cross Plains Wildcats, Holton Warhorses, Sunman Tigers, New Marion Panthers and the Napoleon Bearcats. The Batesville Bulldogs joined the field for the sectional. Each school had their own section in the gym decorated with their school colors. Extra concession stands were set up in the high school hallways. By opening up the high school, this also provided more bathroom facilities.
The county tourneys in Tyson were dominated by Versailles and Milan during the 50’s. Milan won six years in a row and Versailles snapped their streak in 1957. Holton captured the crown in 1958 and Versailles won again 1959. The sectionals were divided between Batesville (51-52), Milan (53-56) and Versailles (57-59).
In 1957, Versailles captured the county tournament and it was their first since the 1934 season. A large bonfire was built on the square in Versailles and later on in the evening a long snake was formed and paraded through town. It was a memorable night for the Lion fans. As a matter of fact according to “Tiny” Hunt long time sports editor for The Versailles Republican, the ’57 Lions team was the first team to win the tourney being undefeated. Later that season, Versailles won its first sectional since 1928. The Lions finished 23-2 for the year. Two years later they won both tourneys at Tyson and finished with a 25-2 record.
Miracle Milan used Tyson as their first stepping stone on their way to fame in 1953 and of course 1954 when they went all the way to win the State Championship with their 32-30 win over the Muncie Central Bearcats.
Tyson Auditorium became home of the South Ripley Raiders during the 1966-67 season. Many memories were established by the Raiders during the final years of the gymnasium. In 1969-70, Tyson was the launching pad for the Ramblin’ Raiders who went on to an undefeated season and was finally derailed by the Crispus Attucks in the Semi-State. The Raiders finished with a fabulous 25-1 record. Eleven years later, in 1981, South Ripley went to the Sweet Sixteen again and another Raider team from Shenandoah ended their remarkable run. The ’81 team finished with a fine 21-5 season. Four other teams enjoyed the home cookin’ at Tyson getting them ready for sectional wins in 1978, 1982, 1988, and 2004.
Tyson has many memories for all the fans of Ripley County. It will always be a shrine to all the true basketball “junkies”. It was loved by the Versailles and South Ripley fans while being considered a dungeon to many of their opponents. The old facility served its purpose and will be missed with all its history, but time moves on. Good-by old friend. It was great to know you all these years.
Note: Much of the information collected was provided by William “Gus”
(Hall of Fame Member ’80)
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Photos by: Ken Sheets & Jack Demaree
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