Chart toppers: Best area gyms to watch a prep game, courtesy Marcus Jackson
Urbana Uni High
The former home of Illinois basketball before the opening of Huff Hall in the 1920s, Kenney Gym later housed the gymnastics and volleyball teams. It is named after former UI wrestler and wrestling coach Harold E. Kenney. Fans might remember the IHSA basketball finals being held at the Assembly Hall, but back in the '20s, Kenney hosted the state tournament. The current home of the Illineks was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
Like Kenney Gym, Combes Gym is old, but that's what makes it so great. One of the first things you notice is the reminders of the great Champaign High teams and athletes in all sports, dating back as far as the 1920s. The gym is named for former Central and Illini basketball coach Harry Combes. The floor is named after legendary coach Lee Cabutti. When a big-time opponent comes to visit, especially crosstown rival Centennial, the atmosphere is unmatched.
It's a true homecourt advantage for the home-standing Comets at The Pit. There is about a foot and a half of space in the out-of-bounds area, and the fans are right on top of you. If a player gets a full head of steam, say on a fast break, he or she better be under control because there's a good chance they can run into the wall before coming to a stop. Oakwood knows the nuances; the opposition, not so much.
The aesthetics of the gym are similar to most in the area. There's a lower section of seats and a balcony to accommodate larger crowds. It's unique in the sense that it's named after a coach who's still active on the bench. Nancy Stiff Gym is named for the first and only girls' basketball coach in school history, who also happens to be the Purple Riders' athletic director. There are also a couple of large, detailed murals in the gym, recognizing the Arcola football state title teams from the '70s and '80s.
The 2011-12 seasons for the boys' and girls' teams at Chrisman were lean, to say the least. But when those teams are at their peak, there isn't a team around that wants to go to Edgar County to take on the Cardinals in front of their home fans. To say it gets loud in there is an understatement, and for a school known to produce some quality shooters, there's nothing like the roar when a game-changing three-pointer goes through the net.