It was the place where a special coach, Edward J. McCluskey, and special players left the championship residue of sweat, hard work, dedication and determination.
Much as the players did, when we as students stepped on the floor for high school dances of all kinds, we felt history and tradition. That’s what separated it from other dances in other gyms.
When Farrrell grads think of the gym, of course, basketball comes to mind. In seven of the classes, it was the source of excitement and pride as the Steelers captured state championships. In other years, it was a series of near-misses, but WPIAL and Section 3 titles nonetheless.
When the annual tour is offered to inductees of the Farrell Alumni Hall of Fame, it is at the gym where they choose to gather to have an informal group photo taken.
Second on the list would be the old high school cafeteria, but since it’s no longer intact, the “E.J.” is always the hub for reminiscing.
The “sanctuary” at the gymnasium (not a public place) is what Farrell students and players have called “the hole” for decades.
It’s a long, narrow opening with an angled ceiling that runs under the permanent seating, and stretches from one end of the floor to the other. The angled I-beams on the ceiling form the support for the concrete stands.
About a third of the hole was where Coach McCluskey gathered his players before and after games as well as during halftime. The rest was used for storing old uniforms and other basketball equipment.
To this day, it’s an eerie feeling (in a good sense) when I visit there. It reeks of the tradition. It’s the place where McCluskey and his players gathered, where games were turned around at halftime, where the emotions that spilled from victory as well as defeat permeate the air. It’[s a “Hoosiers” moment, but in real life, not something of Hollywood.