End is here for ‘The Pit’ at Snohomish High

SNOHOMISH — To an outsider, the Old Gym at Snohomish High School might not seem special, just outdated.

“It’s not the greatest of facilities. It’s dirty. It’s old. It’s hard to upkeep,” Mark Perry, Snohomish High’s athletic director, said on Wednesday.

“But it’s just what we call home,” Perry added. “It’s something that we choose to keep because of our traditional ways at Snohomish High School.”

The Old Gym has been a huge part of Panther tradition since it opened in the fall of 1938. Since 1959 it has been the site of Snohomish’s home wrestling meets.

But Thursday was the end of that era: The Arlington versus Snohomish wrestling meet was the final varsity event that will take place in the storied Old Gym, also known as The Pit.

With close to 600 fans packing the wooden bleachers and adjacent balcony, the Western Conference North Division battle ended in a 57-16 victory for Snohomish, a fittingly dominant performance on an extra-meaningful night. Luke Perry, Micah Morrill, Mark Morrill, Nathan Proffit, Austin Swetz, Sonny Bates-Mundell, Eric Kalmey and Ammon Morrill earned pins for Snohomish, which won 11 of the 14 bouts.

Beyond the mat action, it was a celebration of 50-plus years of wrestling history in the Old Gym. Before the meet the public-address announcer introduced former Snohomish coaches, including past head coaches Kevin Judkins, Ed Lucero, Perry and Bob Walters, and former assistants Ray Johnson and Jerry Simicich.

All four of Snohomish’s individual state wrestling champions were recognized, too: Fred Zylstra (1970, 168 pounds), Brad Perry (2008, 140), Sam Ottow (2009, 130) and Stefan St. Marie (2009, 135).

It was a bittersweet goodbye for Zylstra.

“It’s sad for me. I really hate to see it go,” he said, “because for wrestling it’s a really neat venue — the way the bleachers are situated and you sit up high and look right down.”

Snohomish used to hold varsity basketball and varsity volleyball events in the Old Gym. But in December 1983 those varsity sports moved to the then-new and much larger main gym.

After five decades, wrestling is moving too. The team’s home meets will be in a new auxiliary gym, located next to the main gym, that will open next school year. The Old Gym, which is on a different part of the campus, will temporarily be used as a library — an ironic twist for a facility known for rowdy athletic contests — and then will be demolished in the summer of 2012, school district athletic director Mark Albertine said.

“You’re proud (of the Old Gym) and at the same time you’re a little sad and you’re also looking forward to the future,” said Albertine.

The space occupied by the Old Gym will eventually become a parking lot, but pieces of the venue will live on. Both basketball keys will be incorporated into walls of the auxiliary gym, and the large “S” in the Old Gym’s midcourt circle will be transplanted to Snohomish’s Hall of Fame display. Also, a section of wooden bleachers might be salvaged and displayed in the auxiliary gym.

A state-of-the-art weight room and a practice wrestling room will be located above the auxiliary gym. Money for the project came from a bond issue approved in the mid-2000s, Mark Perry said.

As for the Old Gym, its days are numbered.

It used to hold twice as many fans — about 1,200 — but in the early 1990s the school district needed more classroom space and demolished half of the bleachers and balcony. The original plan was to remove all seating and add even more classrooms, which would have turned the Old Gym into a simple practice space. But a group of community members fought that idea and ultimately preserved half of the Old Gym’s seating, Perry said.

Keith Gilbertson Sr., a walking encyclopedia of Snohomish sports, recalled the days when the Old Gym hosted big-time basketball events, including county and district tournaments. Gilbertson, a 1945 Snohomish High graduate, spent countless hours in the venue from the early 1940s through the mid-1980s, first as a student-athlete and then as a coach.

“It was a great place for me for the time I was in school there,” he said. “It holds great memories.”

For inaugural Snohomish wrestling head coach Howard Raines, the Old Gym was much more than a sports venue. It was the site of his high school graduation, his first wedding and even his memorial service. Haines, a member of the Washington State Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame, passed away in 2004.

From Snohomish’s first head coach to its current head coach, Rob Zabel, Thursday night’s meet celebrated the entire spectrum. “We had quite a bit of history and tradition in the gym and you couldn’t have asked for a better crowd,” Zabel said.

It was a fitting end to a long chapter in Snohomish sports lore.

“We didn’t want our last opportunity to wrestle here to be something that we missed out on (and) didn’t put our best foot forward in front of, basically, our legacy — the people that made this program.”

The Panthers didn’t disappoint.

At Snohomish H.S.

145-Perry (S) pinned Shortt 5:54; 152-Ward (A) major dec. Surdyk 9-1; 160-Micah Morrill (S) pinned McPherson 5:16; 171-Mark Morrill (S) pinned Henderson 3:01; 189-Proffit (S) pinned Love 2:56; 215-Reinhard (S) dec. Quinton 4-3; 285-Maybin (S) dec. Torve 6-5; 103-Swetz (S) pinned Dunnington 1:57; 112-Bates-Mundell (S) pinned Nunez 0:58; 119-Davis (A) pinned Eagle 3:03; 125-Kalmey (S) pinned Amundson 4:35; 130-Clay (S) dec. Driscoll 4-2 OT; 135-Ammon Morrill (S) pinned Berg 4:57; 140-Badgley (A) pinned Mitchell 4:37. Records-Arlington 3-3 in division, 5-4 overall. Snohomish 4-3, 8-4.

Mike Cane: mcane@heraldnet.com. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.

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