Former Harvard gym houses sports grab bag

The lacquered floor of Hamilton Gymnasium may not be used a lot for competition anymore. It doesn’t even sit in the school proper, having been banished to the parking lots subsequently built around it. But the school’s secondary indoor venue still is in constant use, whether for practices or rented to clubs and outside groups, and the most storied building on campus has also become the most versatile.

As it has faded into the school’s periphery, Hamilton has recently played host to everything from volleyball practices and concert receptions to badminton tournaments and ballroom dancing competitions. It’s the primary practice and competition venue for varsity wrestling, and a weekly faculty-alumni basketball game now headed by history teacher and former boys basketball coach David Waterhouse has been held there almost every Thursday since the 1950s, except for a brief period when it was held in Taper Gymnasium.  The long-running game is just one of the many traditions that Hamilton is a part of.

“Hamilton has a long and storied tradition of adapting to all kinds of eclectic events,” Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas said. “The girders practically reek of tradition. You walk in there and feel that it has stories to tell.”

However, while the gym’s old charms tell the school’s early athletic history, it also gives off an outdated feel. While the handful of Harvard’s CIF title banners that hang in the gym date back to 1970 and run up until the merger, a hodgepodge of styles of banner hang for the same level of victory. The older scoreboards on the east and west walls are decrepit and broken in many places, while the gnarled bleachers sit in an alcove held up by pillars, obstructing the view of the court from many seats. As a result, the Athletic Department quickly moved most of the Harvard teams to Taper when it was built in the 1970s.

Hamilton’s future may see the old building being phased out even more or even knocked down. Since the school has begun to prepare for the future upper school modernization, most of the Athletic Department’s proposals have included more indoor playing space for teams. Given that Hamilton could become the third or fourth venue, which would relegate it to little or no use, the building could be knocked down to create more real estate for the school to build upon, taking a large part of Wolverine history with it. Barzdukas recognizes how big of a loss the gym would be but still knows that the end of the era may be beneficial for the school and the athletics program as well.

“We’re going to use that space until the last two-by-four gets knocked down,” he said. “But the biggest question is what can we do to best serve the needs of the kids, and nostalgia and history all take a back seat to that consideration.”

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