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Jewell: An old gym with a history

dfox • Updated Nov 9, 2015 at 11:55 PM

In the group “If you grew up in Lebanon (Tn) you remember...” Tick Bryan posted a photo from one of his postcards. It showed the old gymnasium on High Street, which holds a lot of memories of my family.

As noted in one of my recent blog posts, my mother did not set her scoring records in the gym in the picture. Her playing days (1932-35) were in the gym in the basement of the old high school, roughly where Highland Heights stood for many years.

That high school building burned down in 1936, give or take a few years because my memory fades. My uncle, Bill Prichard, and his class first went to their classes in various businesses, church classrooms, and homes until the next high school was completed on the northeast corner of the intersection of East High and North Cumberland. 

The gym in the photo sat between the “new” Lebanon High School and Highland Heights Elementary, although I don’t recall anyone calling Highland Heights or McClain “elementary” schools. It sat back from High Street. A parking lot for both schools was in front.

My aunt, Bettye Kate Hall; my uncle; my cousin Joann Jewell Jacobs; and I think her older sister, Myrtle Jewell Oxendine, all played basketball in that gym. My earliest recollection going there was to watch my aunt play in a charity basketball game there. It was a bit different. All of the players rode donkeys.

In 1955, Lebanon High School moved to its new facility on Harding Drive off of East Spring Street. The older building became the first place in Lebanon for seventh and eighth graders to attend school separately from the other elementary grades. The class ahead of me attended Lebanon Junior High by themselves that first year. Previously, students from those two grades attended either McClain or Highland Heights. These two schools and the new junior high were “city” schools. Others, like Flat Rock, continued to have classes one through six in the county. 

In the junior high’s second year, my class filled out the student body.

I would nearly always ride to school with my mother. Roy Dowdy was the superintendent for the city schools. Estelle Jewell was his secretary and kept the financial records for the district. Mr. Dowdy doubled up as the principal for Highland Heights. Therefore, Mother worked right across the parking lot where I was going to junior high. She worked later than school hours. Therefore on most days, I would walk home, a distance of something over a mile, with a group of other students. Today, that could very well send some parents into an epileptic fit of worry.  

I felt like I was all grown up. That is, I felt that way until our first pre-season football practice in 1956. Our locker room was in the basement of the gym. Our practices took place on that mostly hard dirt “playground” on the east side of Highland Heights. Jimmy Allen and Don English put me in my place. My primary recollection of the morning after the first practice was being so muscle sore I did not wish to move.

I don’t recall any seventh graders playing boy’s basketball that 56-57 season. 

My eighth grade year with the gym having a prominent role was one of the highlights of my life. Football, basketball, glee club, play, operetta, and, oh yes, classes and study filled up my life. It was fun. Our two sports teams were very good. Elaine Davis consented to wearing my “ring” around her neck.

Even then, I would occasionally get jerked back to earth. The gym played a part in once such earth-crashing event. After a football practice, I took a shower and dressed and met my mother in the parking lot. 

By the time I reached the car, I was in severe pain in my private areas. My nefarious teammates, led I’m sure by my buddy Henry Harding, had sprinkled itching powder in my underwear. My friends laughed. I didn’t then, but I do now.

Tick’s photo of the old gym brought back memories. It is fitting the site of that gym, Highland Heights, and two high school buildings are now part of Lebanon’s justice system.

Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is [email protected].

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