S. Jersey's top basketball venues

And the winner is: Cap Paine Gymnasium, home court to the Woodbury Thundering Herd. This building has history, geography, and that fabulous wooden vaulted ceiling.
And the winner is: Cap Paine Gymnasium, home court to the Woodbury Thundering Herd. This building has history, geography, and that fabulous wooden vaulted ceiling. (JERRY LODRIGUSS / Inquirer file photo)
Posted: January 06, 2014

There are basketball people who love the sport in the summer.

They love the street beat of the outdoor runs. They cherish the hothouse effect of all those camps and clinics and all that AAU competition.

But there's something about an overheated gymnasium on a cold winter night - when fans cram into well-worn wooden bleachers and athletes race across shiny hardwood in tracing footsteps that reach back across the generations.

Everybody believes his or her gym is special. Everybody is right, too. If it's the home court, there's something friendly and familiar about it.

The best thing about gyms is that they come in so many shapes and sizes and they all seem to have their own character.

Here are some of the best places in South Jersey to catch a game.

Honorable Mention

(Listed alphabetically.)

Atlantic City. Perhaps South Jersey's largest high school gym doesn't have the intimate atmosphere of one of those little places with limited seating. But it has been home to numerous big games, both when the Vikings were playing and as a neutral site in the state tournament. It was here that Shawnee in 1995 scored the first 31 points of the second half in a Group 4 state semifinal against a Piscataway team with two Division I guards.

Collingswood. Howard Irvine Memorial Gym, the old place with its unique side entrance, has been refurbished, but there's history in the air - and out in the lobby where the trophy cases reflect the glory of one of South Jersey's most decorated athletic programs.

Lenape. The school's fairly new South gym is a shiny, sprawling place that already has hosted a bunch of great Group 4 playoff events.

Ocean City. Dixie Howell gymnasium is part of the new high school. It's nice and all, but the best part is that when you walk out the door, you are on 5th Street, about a block from the Ferris wheel at Gillian's Wonderland Pier.

Pitman. This is a quaint little spot that appears pretty pedestrian at first glance. But then you look up and see that No. 3 and No. 5 in the rafters and you remember what it was like when Joe and Jon Crispin were playing for Pitman in the late 1990s.

Wildwood Catholic. This place between 15th and 16th and off Central Avenue in North Wildwood doubles as a church for Masses that are packed in the summer. There are some obstructed views in the balcony of a cramped little gym that's a great place to see a big game - and the Crusaders will play a bunch of big games this season.

Williamstown. This is a big, modern gym with one feature that sets it apart: a four-side scoreboard that hangs above center court.

Top 10

10. St. Augustine. Rodio Gym is named after the man who coaches there, Paul Rodio, South Jersey's all-time leader in coaching victories. This a state-of-the-art place that hosts perhaps South Jersey's most important in-season tournament, the Shoot Down Cancer Classic.

9. Paulsboro. They redid the bleachers a couple of years ago, so now they are red plastic instead of smooth wood. But those tan-tiled walls still reverberate all through the winter in this consistently overcrowded little gymnasium.

8. Audubon. This is a nice, old gym off Edgewood Avenue with wooden bleachers and a heaping helping of history. If you close your eyes, you still can see John Kling's old teams running the weave.

7. Gloucester Catholic. With a stage at one end and a student section at the other, this is one of the more special gyms in South Jersey. Nestled off Cumberland Street in the row-homed heart of Gloucester City and about two blocks off the Delaware River, Monsignor Lucitt Hall creates a true home-court advantage.

6. Cherry Hill East. This is a neat place, especially when they open both sides of the bleachers for a series of big games at the Cherry Hill East Invitational in late February. John Valore Court at DiBart Gym is surrounded by double-decker seating sections on both sides.

5. Bishop Eustace. "The Tradition is That of a Winner." How long has that sign been hanging at one end of the Crusaders' field house? This is a place known for its lobby, its bank of windows along the top of both sides of the seating sections, and its history of hosting one of the best programs in South Jersey.

4. Camden. Clarence Turner Gymnasium is the most famous wing of the Castle on the Hill, a place where the old tiled walls still shake with the echoes of South Jersey's most fabled program. There's a larger-than-life photo of Dajuan Wagner, commemorating his state-record total of 3,462 career points.

3. Riverside. Pop Vernon Field House looks as if it belongs in Indiana. It's a big, old place with huge windows. It could host Hickory vs. Deerlick in the regional finals.

2. Haddonfield. There's something special about this place. There's an indoor-swimming-pool effect to the playing floor, which is sunken below bleachers that hover over the court on both sides. It's also old, dark, and dangerous to visiting teams, since the Haddons always tend to be among the strongest squads in South Jersey.

1. Woodbury. Cap Paine Gymnasium is the coolest court in South Jersey. It's the history, with the tribute to all those great old teams. It's the geography, the way it's set off from the high school on the crowded campus. It's the ceiling, most of all - vaulted, wooden, cathedral-like.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/jerseysidesports

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