Local History #tbt Blog - Young Jerry Lucas Fills a Tall Order at Wade E. Miller Gym
Listen closely as you walk past the shuttered Wade E. Miller Gymnasium on Curtis Street in Middletown, Ohio.
You might hear the squeak of shoes on the hardboard, the whistle of a referee, the call of an announcer...
And feel the Middie Magic of basketball royalty from long ago.
Soon the old gym, once the pride of the Middletown High School basketball program, will be demolished. So, too, will the stately structure just around the corner on Girard Avenue that once housed Middletown High school and other grade levels. Its last identity was Middletown Middle School.
With time comes change. Next month middle schoolers will join high school students at a modern, sprawling school and sports complex on Breiel Boulevard. Among the amenities : the new Wade E. Miller Arena.
Meanwhile, back on Curtis Street, the spirits of Middie Magic still revel in the glory of games and players past.
They fondly remember Wade E. Miller, the Middletown High School principal (1917-1944) and Middletown schools superintendent after whom the gym was named. (1)
They proudly recall when the gym opened in 1952 as “one of the top basketball courts in the state.” (2)
And they certainly won’t forget tall, lanky Middie Magic-maker, Jerry Lucas. The future National Basketball Association Hall of Famer became the school’s “No. 1 scorer with 2,460 points in three seasons” and led the Middies to a 76-1 record and two state titles.” (3)
Lucas not only excelled on the basketball court. He also served as senior class president, junior class president and was involved with Boys’ State, National Honor Society, Glee Club, Hi-Y, the Middie Manor Board and track. (*).
In time, Lucas rocketed into hoopster stratosphere as “one of the few players ever to win titles in high school, college (Ohio State), the Olympics (in Rome, 1960) and the National Basketball Association (1972-1973 with the New York Knicks).” (4)
“As a pro, Lucas was named All-NBA First Team three times, NBA All-Star seven times, was 1964 NBA Rookie of the Year, and was named Most Valuable Player of the 1965 NBA All-Star Game.” (4)
“At the All-Star Game in Cleveland in 1997, he was introduced as one of The 50 Greatest NBA Players.” (4).
As of early 2017, the former Middie remained “the only three-time Big Ten Player of the Year.” He was also twice-named NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Player of the Year.” (4)
Perhaps the most heart-warming basketball honor Lucas received came in 2013 when the Middletown school system officially named the floor of Wade E. Miller gym the “Jerry Lucas Court” (5).
That same weekend a banner hailing another Middletown legend was unveiled. It proclaimed the late legendary basketball Coach Paul Walker as “Hall of Fame Middie Coach” in recognition of his 30 years of coaching, leading them to five state championships and his being named Ohio Coach of the Year (three times) and National Coach of the Year. (5)
May the memories of Wade E. Miller Gymnasium live on in the hearts and minds of all who entered.
1. “A Brief History of the Middletown City School District 1800-1987” by Norman M. Hayes
2. “Middies to host Big Blue in gym farewell” by Rick McCrabb, Journal-News, December 21, 2016
3. “The List: Middletown High School’s greatest basketball players” by Rick McCrabb, Journal-News, December 3, 2017
4. “5 Middletown athletes everyone should know” by Rick McCrabb, Journal News, February 11, 2017
5. “Lucas ‘very humbled’ by court dedication” by Rick McCrabb, Journal News, February 16, 2013
* PHOTOS AND INFORMATION ABOUT JERRY LUCAS AND THE MIDDIES BASKETBALL TEAM APPEAR IN THE 1958 MIDDLETOWN HIGH SCHOOL “OPTIMIST” YEARBOOK.
THE PHOTO OF BASKETBALL COACH PAUL WALKER APPEARS IN THE 1958 OPTIMIST.
THE PHOTO OF SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT WADE E. MILLER APPEARS IN THE 1947 OPTIMIST.
MIDDLETOWN OPTIMISTS AND MANY OTHER LOCAL HISTORICAL PHOTOS AND INFORMATION ARE AVAILABLE FOR VIEWING ON THE MIDPOINTE LIBRARY DIGITAL ARCHIVES: www.MidPointeDigitalArchives.org