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Old-school hoops.

A big storm with ice is coming and I am lousy and nervous around big storms, so I will make words come out of my fingers for a little while and it will distract me, like eating or talking or smoking cigarettes do for other people.

Tonight it was my turn to do parental duties at my younger son’s youth basketball game. I volunteered for it this time, because he was playing in a room that I might actually call one of my favorite places in the Lehigh Valley.

Coplay is a little pumpkinseed of a town (a borough, in Pennsylvania-speak) next door to the larger township where I live.

It’s the sort of little town that squeezes every drop of life out of its public buildings because it’s not Bala Cynwyd, for godsakes, and there just isn’t loose money to throw around.

Coplay Borough Hall, which is also Coplay police headquarters, used to be Coplay High School, many years ago when there was such a thing. (Coplay kids go to school in neighboring Whitehall now.)

Just inside the front doors of Coplay Borough Hall is what must have been the high school auditorium, back in the day.

Actually, I know it was the high school auditorium, because the rows of faded wooden seats (I think they go up to P or so) have “CHS” stamped on the sides.

Have a seat.

Have a seat.

There’s a balcony, too, which looks like it must have been a wonderful place to snog back in the day, but which now seems to be given over to storage.

(Yes, I tried to get in. No, the doors were locked. No, I didn’t have anyone to snog with, anyway. I was flying solo, like Charles Lindbergh. Or maybe Ham the space chimp would be a more apt comparison.)


Watched over by a set of aging arched windows is a combination stage and basketball court. I saw a grade-school band concert there a couple of years ago; and tonight I saw it put to its other use.

This pic is no triumph of the shutterman's art but consider clicking it anyway. I like the wraithlike effect of the running kids.

This pic is no triumph of the shutterman’s art but consider clicking it anyway to see it larger. I like the wraithlike effect of the running kids.

You’ll note an old upright piano at the front right of the room, covered (as it was last time I was there) by what appears to be an old flowered tablecloth. The ivory keys are just about exactly the smoked-brown shade you’d expect them to be.

If you look hard at the front left, you’ll also see a couple of kids manning one of those low-tech flip-number portable scoreboards.

That’s because the permanent scoreboard on the back wall — a gift from the Class of 1944 — either doesn’t work at all, or is reserved for more hallowed events.

Love the big clock in the middle. God knows how many basketball games this scoreboard has seen. If scoreboards had eyes, of course.

It didn’t work during the band concert either. (I keed, I keed.)

I love the yellowed funk of this room, not to mention the bare-bones authenticity of its purpose.

See, I grew up in bedroom-community suburbs that had enough kids, and enough money, to build separate gyms and auditoriums in their school buildings. This cramped old room is foreign to my experience.

(Sometimes the auditorium and the cafeteria doubled as the same room in the elementary schools of my youth. But those were elementary schools, not high schools; and besides, it felt different than this room does. It felt like a smart re-use of space, not like a penny-pinching, space-scraping small-town necessity.)

The room clearly hasn’t been updated or refurbished since before I was born, and I’m old enough to be turning gray. (Thanks in part to all these goddamned storms. Did I tell you about the storms?)

I said on Twitter that I could imagine the Coplay High Class of ’42 sitting through its graduation ceremony in this room, and then going out to enlist the next day. The room probably looked very much the same that day, except shinier. I bet the piano was in tune then, too.

God knows how many years of kids have watched a game from this "bench." Not a lot of room there for gangly high schoolers.

How many years of kids have watched a game from this “bench” at the lip of the stage? Not a lot of room there for gangly high schoolers.

They don’t build rooms like this one any more. It’s a neat old mini-cave of a room — sort of the Boston Garden of Lehigh Valley public spaces. Might be a good place for intimate concerts, if the borough fathers could be persuaded to open it up, and if audiences could be convinced not to spit and stomp all over it and hasten its demise.

I’ve got at least one more school-band concert to watch there in a year or two, I’m fairly sure, and I’m already looking forward to it.

It is better than thinking about the storms.

Good game. Good game. Good game ...

Good game. Good game. Good game …


5 responses »

  1. You didn’t mention any particular smell which identifies this room as venerable, perhaps all those years of a leaky roof or window. Or any foibles of the long-overworked heating system that struggles to reach 60 degrees. Or have these been remedied/updated? Frankly, as quaint as it looks, it looks well cared for in your pics. Neat place. Any way to find out when it was really built, like on a cornerstone?

  2. New buildings have facilities, old buildings have character. I remember going to a basketball game many years ago in a gym with no seats on the floor, only in a balcony that surrounded the entire court. The backboards and rims were hung from the face of the balcony. In memory, it looks like you could have goaltended from the first row, but I doubt it was really like that.

  3. I’ve never seen a multi-use space like that. I’ve played in a hundred gyms that have a stage carved out of the end of the court, though, which seems to be the more common style. I wonder if this is a one-off or just an abandoned style?

  4. That clock is to die for, as well.


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