HAMMOCK: Atmosphere is great at old Berkmar gymnasium

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

The old Berkmar gym was no more comfortable for a sports writer than it was for opposing basketball teams.

Crammed near the scorer's table, pad in lap, I covered many games at the place dubbed "The Pit," some of them thrilling, all of them loud. Afterward, it was a fight to get through the slender hallway to the locker room that housed the visiting players.

But I loved the place and I still do.

It's high school basketball ambience at its best, which will be celebrated Saturday when the Patriots host Brookwood in a varsity doubleheader beginning at 4 p.m. The two schools will leave the high school's posh, new gym empty and play the varsity games in "The Pit" on "Throwback Night," dedicated to Berkmar's basketball history (all those with ties from past years are invited).

Many of those players from the school's great teams will be there, including Adrien Borders, a starting guard on the 1999 and 2000 state championship teams.

"It was a lovely place to play," Borders said of the old gym, replaced by the new one in 2002. "It's 'The Pit.' It's what, 4 or 5 feet shorter than a normal court. I think that really helped our press. The bench comes right to the sideline. It was a great atmosphere. It was like a big, sweaty pit where the battle goes down."

Built for a much smaller Berkmar, more like it was when the school opened in 1966, "The Pit" didn't work as well in modern Gwinnett and for modern Berkmar, with its 3,000-plus students.

But in its heyday, the old gym was packed full most nights. One end housed the rowdy Berkmar student section, the steep seating on both sides housing the rest. There isn't much floor real estate outside of the court itself, which leaves Borders chuckling about how the Patriots exited the locker room and ran right through the other team's layup line.

The intimate setting helped the acoustics, too. It's still loud, but no longer for varsity games.

"Some of our freshman games there are louder than our varsity games (in the new gym) even though there's about a tenth of the people there," current Berkmar boys coach Greg Phillips said.

In talking with former players and boosters, Phillips said the idea of this weekend's "Throwback Night" came about. The P.A. system will boom 1990s music on a night that will be a reunion of sorts for past Berkmar players.

The teams had hoped to wear throwback uniforms, but the coaches involved had issues putting together a complete set. Throwback warm-ups are planned, though.

Berkmar had to run the idea past the Brookwood coaches, who didn't mind at all being part of it. It's even a cool night for Bronco boys coach Daniel Bowles, who played a handful of high school games at "The Pit" as a visiting Brookwood player in the late 1990s.

"I graduated the same year as (former Berkmar and Georgia Tech star) Tony Akins, so we had some really good games in that old gym," Bowles said. "I grew up playing against all of those guys and in that gym, so I'm excited to play in there again."

He's not alone.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.


dikpa 3 years, 5 months ago

At The Pit, opposing teams had trouble making free throws at the north end of the court as hecklers at the top rail seemed to be standing right above the basketball goal. Referees were no exception either. One unPatriotic call and they had a long night of heckling from our resident hecklers. Between the fall of 1998 and February 2001, Berkmar lost only two games at The Pit - Clarke Central and Brookwood. GO BERKMAR PATRIOTS!!! WE TOO DEEP!!!


Brisonlake 3 years, 5 months ago

Hey Will, I'll go even further old school on you. Back when I played for Central Gwinnett in the mid-70s, only one side had bleachers and the other side had a block wall with parts of it that jutted out toward the floor. It made going for loose balls interesting.


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