In the early 1930s, what is now commonly known as the ‘Old Gym’ in Vevay was constructed just west of what was then Vevay High School.
At the time, it was built as an auditorium, as the high school had a sunken gym south of the high school near the corner of Main Cross and Pike streets that also served as a cafeteria.
When the gym fell into disrepair, the solution was to install a floor in the auditorium and play basketball games there — and the Old Gym was born in the mid-1930s. It hosted Sectionals and other sporting events, and served for a time as the home gym for Patriot High School, as well.
After Vevay High School and Patriot High School merged to form Switzerland County High School in the late 1960s early 1970s, the Old Gym became a facility mainly used for junior high sporting events, and over time it began to show inevitable wear and tear.
Then, about six years ago, the Switzerland County School Board and then-superintendent Mike Jones began work to stabilize the gym by working to move water away from the foundation; and when current superintendent Rod Hite came on board, the school board began to work on renovating the facility in stages over the past five years.
All of that work came to completion on Saturday, August 26th, when the “New Old Gym” was officially opened to the public — and to the alumni of Patriot High School and Vevay High School — and stands as a living memorial to those two schools that are the history of education in this county.
“Once we got the water away, the building needed updates,” Hite said as he toured the facility. “The ceiling was brown. It was missing drywall. Paint in general had been peeling off of the walls — that sort of thing. Once we began looking at it, it became necessary for us to put a vision together as to where we wanted this to go. With that, over a six year period we took the regular maintenance dollars and used them strategically. We put handrails in for safety, for example.”
Hite said that the work started up high, replacing the drywall in the ceiling as well as painting the ceiling and the rafters. After the walls were painted; the old wooden backboards on the sides of the gym were dealt with, as well as lighting.
“Some things were just timing,” Hite said. “We had the sound system replaced at the high school for the gym; and they said that we had some speakers blown out, but we did have some speakers that were still good, but that they were the older style speakers. We went through and had them refurbished and updated, and then moved that sound system over here with a new sound board.”
But the true epicenter of the renovated Old Gym comes with its focus on remembering and preserving the past history of the original two high schools.
“The Patriot and Vevay High School alumni items were in a couple of showcases in the hallway between the ag shop and the office,” the superintendent said. “I said, ‘nobody sees those, so how can we showcase those?’”
With the high school wrestling team using the Old Gym more and more for practice as well as some home meets; and the continued use of the building for middle school athletics; the school board decided to build showcases and other things into the Old Gym — making it a something that preserved the history of the county while putting it in a building that was still being used so that the memorabilia could be seen and appreciated.
“We wanted to recognize both teams and both schools,” Hite said. “Because it’s the last piece of the past and it’s the first piece of Switzerland County. I would say it became the hub of preserving those histories.”
All of that work culminated on the Saturday of the Swiss Wine Festival, where — following the parade, the community was invited to come and see the improvements and displays.
“The response has been great,” Hite said. “I think people see this as something that has come together that is honoring both of those schools. The thing that really got me was seeing some of the emotions of people coming back. One guy went to tears when he came in — because he hadn’t been back here in so long.”
And the opening of the Old Gym has also stirred alumni and others to help build on the traditions that are already there.
“I’ve had a lot of members reach out and said, ‘I have this (item). My kids don’t want it or I don’t have anyone to pass it on to. Is there any way that you guys could include it?’ They’re not just dropping it off, they’re asking; so we’re going to continue to grow.”
And the star attraction of the mementos in the Old Gym? It takes some knowledge to find it.
When graduating seniors of Vevay High School went through commencement, one of the items that each graduate received was a felt pennant, according to Hite. The very first-ever graduating class of Vevay High School was the class of 1867.
As fans enter the Old Gym on the north side off of Seminary Street, going in the doors on the east side, they can walk in, turn around, and look up over the doors. In a special case, preserved and protected, is that pennant.
“It’s probably the most unique item that I would have never envisioned us having,” he said. “Rita Sullivan was talking with someone about the opening and the memorabilia; and they told her that they had, in a trunk, the very first graduating class pennant from Vevay from 1867.”
But the most striking feature in the renovation is the largest one — the graphic on the south end of the gym covering where the original stage area was. It is designed to appear as the front page of a newspaper, and has photos of both the old Vevay High School and Patriot High School on it, as well as stories that trace the history of both schools.
It is eye catching — and it serves as a written history that will educate people for years to come.
As fans enter the Old Gym, they will also see custom-designed cases that include items from the history of both high schools; as well as a video screen that tells the story of alumni who had contributions to the schools’ sports teams; and Hite hopes that the videos will expand at some point to have former students and athletes from both schools sharing their memories.
Updates to the lockerroms have been done, as well as the public bathrooms. A handicap-accessible bathroom has been created; as well as updated spaces for concessions and coaches offices.
The new history of the Old Gym officially kicked off this past Saturday, September 2nd, as the Switzerland County High School volleyball team christened the renovation with a win over Clarksville High School.
Hite said that there will be two “throwback” games held in the Old Gym this basketball season — a boys jayvee and varsity game against Clarksville on Friday, December 1st; and a girls jayvee and varsity game against Carroll County on Tuesday, December 5th.
Hite said that the IHSAA allows schools to wear throwback jerseys in one game each season; and that Switzerland County officials petitioned the IHSAA to allow a second game this season, so that Vevay High School could be worn in one game and Patriot High School could be worn in another.
Since that request was denied by state officials, Hite said that on these throwback games, Switzerland County players will wear Vevay High School uniforms for one half; and then change at halftime and wear Patriot High School uniforms for the other half.
The superintendent also noted that all alumni from Patriot High School and Vevay High School have been given special passes that allows them free admission to any athletic event happening in the Old Gym as a way of honoring them as alumni.