FILLMORE -- It's been 40 years since the walls inside the Fillmore gymnasium have heard the cheering of a crowd watching a varsity basketball contest. Riding a two game winning streak, and an Eagle Holiday Classic Championship, South Putnam returns the tiny gym to host Eminence, with the JV tipping off at 6 p.m.
In the 1969-70 season, the face of Putnam County basketball was changing. Gone were the tiny powerhouses of Bainbridge, Roachdale, Fillmore and Reelsville -- replaced by the newly-consolidated and larger schools of North Putnam and South Putnam. Players who were once fierce rivals were now asked to be teammates with a common cause, and nowhere was it more prevalent than at South Putnam.
Comprised of 12 seniors from Reelsville, Belle Union and Fillmore, the newly christened South Putnam Eagles took to the court for the 69-70 season. There was only one problem -- with the new school still under construction, the Eagles were a team without a home. But for some of its players, the homecourt they'd known for years would serve as the Eagles hard-court in its inaugural season. They needed a home and the gym at Fillmore would serve the purpose.
For those not familiar with the court at Fillmore, pop a copy of Hoosiers into your DVD player and you'll have a close idea to what it's like. The floor is surrounded by elevated seating for the crowd, which creates one of the loudest playing experiences one could imagine -- a whisper quickly turns into a roar.
A nice added touch for Friday's game is the fact they will be using the same scoreboard that counted baskets from the likes of Jerry Custis, Will Rowan, Dan Pucket and Ron Wallace in their first season as South Putnam Eagles.
The Eagles, led by Hall-of-Fame coach Tom Goldsberry, won their first game of the season against Terre Haute State High 72-60 on Nov. 7 1969 and went on to have a record of 18-4. Their first season was punctuated by high points such as an early win over North Putnam, putting up 106 points on Monrovia and capturing the school's first sectional game win. They bowed out of sectional with a 75-62 loss to North Putnam round two.
The Eagles also had another treat as they visited the new gym at South Putnam just before sectional play. The players drew, and Willie Taylor was selected as the first player to attempt a bucket in the new confines. Unfortunately for him, his shot went in and out. It would be Custis who is credited with sinking the first shot in the South Putnam gym.
The last time the court at Fillmore saw varsity action, the Eagles defeated Scecina 68-61 to cap a 17-3 regular season. South Putnam averaged more than 69 points in its first season.
With each basket, with each pass and with each cheer from the crowd, everything will not only be an honor to the current Eagles team on the court -- it will be a salute to the squads of young men who came before.
One thing is for sure, when the stands are filled on Friday, they'll not only be fans -- they'll be filled by legends
The Eagles will host the Eminence Eels with the girls tipping off at 6 p.m.