In today’s ‘Our Favorites’ we pick our favorite gyms/fieldhouses on the North Shore.
Stephen A. Rowell Gymnasium, Rockport High School
The home of Rockport High School basketball is far from the largest gym in the area; rather, it's among the smallest. But the Rowell Gymnasium has some serious character and atmosphere.
There are only five rows of bleachers on each sideline, but the decibel levels the gym produces are as high as some of the area's larger gyms — maybe even louder. That provides a big homecourt advantage. When those five rows of bleachers are packed with fans, Rockport High is one of the best sports atmospheres on the North Shore, regardless of sport. Cape Ann League teams don't like to come down to Rockport, since it's a little long on the travel for many schools and the place can be tough to play in with the way the Vikings feed off of the home crowd.
What the Rowell Gymnasium lacks in size, it more than makes up for in bark and bite.
Honorable mention: Manchester Essex High School gym; Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse, Salem; Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse, Beverly.
Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center, St. John's Prep
What doesn't this ultramodern athletic complex possess? For a school that constantly ranks among the state's best across the sports spectrum, this facility has everything a student-athlete could want and hope for. Never mind it being the best in the state; it'd be the envy of many colleges, too.
Covering 80,000 square feet, it features four different courts for basketball, volleyball, wrestling, fencing and indoor practices for sports such as football or soccer. One of those is Connaughton Court, named in honor of alum Pat Connaughton of the Milwaukee Bucks. There's an eight-lane indoor pool, two levels of strength and conditioning facilities, record boards posted for varsity athletic teams who play there, an upper and lower track, plenty of room in this day and age for social distancing, and spectacular views of the Glatz Field turf right next door, where games can be watched from inside the Wellness Center. It was also resplendent this past year when a gathering to celebrate the life of SJP graduate Pete Frates was held for more than 1,000 people.
In fairness, it's a parochial school with resources that local public schools just don't possess. But that shouldn't take away from the breathtaking structure that's home to St. John's Prep athletics.
Honorable mention: Weld Fieldhouse, Pingree; Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse, Beverly; Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse, Salem; Danvers High School Fieldhouse.
Veterans Memorial Fieldhouse, Salem
Salem High's Fieldhouse, home to the Witches' boys and girls basketball teams as well as their volleyball squad, isn't a state-of-the-art facility by any stretch. It's not the newest, brightest or biggest gymnasium around, either. But for whatever reason, I always look forward to covering a hoops game there.
Maybe it's the historical nature of the venue, with the championship banners hanging in the rafters and classic red, white and black color scheme throughout. Or maybe it's the unique layout of it all — the standalone balcony above the baseline, where the snack stand is conveniently placed on game night, and the stadium-like bleacher seating rising high on the far side of the court. The acoustics are also better than expected, and diehard hoop fans pile in nightly to make for an entertaining atmosphere.
Honorable mention: Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse, Beverly; Weld Fieldhouse, Pingree; Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center, St. John's Prep; Hamilton-Wenham High School Fieldhouse.
Henry Cabot Lodge Fieldhouse, Beverly
Half the joints on the North Shore don't even have an indoor track these days, a shame of modern engineering, so we'll give Beverly the nod for having a decent-sized straightaway for sprinting and plenty of room for the field events.
The way the second floor creates a little bit of a tunnel for runners to come in and out of makes for a pretty cool scene when the gym is full and a winter meet has come down to the final relay. For basketball, the second floor seats on the opposite side make for a nice viewing experience as well. Overall, a big winner in the Garden City.