It started as an idea for Peter and Pam Groote’s retirement. But Pam was beginning to have second thoughts about spending her retired winters in Indiana.
“So that’s what we started with now,” said Peter. “We’re trying to get through it, so if we want to move somewhere, we can.”
The Grootes’ assignment: Visit every high school basketball gym in Indiana for a game, document their visit with a photo or two (Pam posts her trips on her Facebook page), and hopefully find a local restaurant that does they can enjoy before their game.
The Grootes embarked on this journey anew in 2018, starting from scratch. Although they had regularly attended basketball games in North Central (Pam works as a registrar at the school), their first “official” game together after planning this immense task was the 2018 regional championship at Seymour between Romeo Langford and New Albany and Trayce Jackson. Davis and Center Grove.
Since then, the Grootes have been out and about… driving. They’ve visited 110 gyms since last week’s City tournament, which included visits to Roncalli and Howe (where Purdue Poly plays its home games). There are about 300 more to go.
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“We’re looking at at least six or seven more years,” Peter said. “We try to do 50 a year but it’s hard. We try to stay semi-local on Fridays or during the week and go further afield on the weekends.”
Two weekends ago, the Grootes missed a trip to Barr-Reeve for a game against Loogootee on a Friday night, headed back to Bloomington and stayed with friends. The next day in the afternoon they saw the second-placed Lanesville Class A girls team, visited Medora for the Southern Roads Conference tournament, and then made their way to Scottsburg to see Warriors host New Albany.
“Sometimes we come home and I’m like, ‘That was a fun day,'” Pam said. “Sometimes we come home and I’m like, ‘It’s been a long day.’ But it was more good than bad.”
The Grootes have been married for 25 years and have two adult children, daughter Sarah and son Ben. Peter, who played football and basketball at Knox High School, rekindled his high school basketball fandom when Sarah went to school in North Central and played Mr. Basketball Kris Wilkes for the Panthers in 2017.
But it was Pam’s idea to attend a game at every gym.
“It was something for us to do,” she said. “Rather than sitting at home, I thought we should do something. There are games during the week, there are games at the weekend and we see a lot of cool places.”
Whenever possible, the Grootes try to accommodate a visit to a local restaurant. Before a girls game at Taylor earlier this season, they dined at Choo Choo McGoo’s in Kokomo. In Mishawaka they checked out Pasquale Rulli’s Pizza and in Medora they were lucky to find White’s Pizza.
“It was great,” Pam said. “A little hole in the wall with about six tables and it really was probably the only place in town. I’m trying to find different places to eat.”
Peter, who works remotely for Cummins in finance and information technology, admits that the quality of the games sometimes falls short of the goal of visiting every gym. He joked he had told North Central sporting director Andy Elkins to set up different opponents for the girls and boys on the street.
Peter said his favorite visits to date have been Mishawaka, home of “The Cave,” which was built in 1924 and is the state’s oldest active gym, and LaCrosse, a tiny gym in the northwest of the state. LaCrosse closed as a school at the end of the 2021-22 school year, but the consolidated school, Tri-Township, still plays its home games in the gym, which was built in 1950 and has a unique old-school atmosphere.
“We didn’t know where to pay for the ticket, so we just walked in and sat down,” said Peter, laughing. “It’s one of the best places to watch a game. It’s really small.”
The Grootes occasionally encounter problems on their travels. Like when they drove to a game in Seeger, only to find an empty parking lot upon arrival at the school. Little did the Grootes know that the Seeger boys play their games at the Williamsport Gymnasium, which was built in 1958.
“We couldn’t find the gym,” said Peter. “So we have to go back there one more time.”
The Grootes met a man in Lanesville who was aiming for the same goal, although he mostly follows the Lanesville teams and tries to interfere with other visits when possible. Peter and Pam said the most difficult trips will likely be to Northwest Indiana and Evansville, which are a significant distance away and have multiple schools to visit.
But so far so good. At each stop, the Grootes will take a photo in front of the school’s name, a photo at Center Court, and possibly in front of a local restaurant. It’s an Indiana high school basketball education they both enjoy, though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it, Peter jokes.
“It’s funny, we’re sitting in a restaurant and people are probably looking at us because we’re just looking at our phones,” he said, laughing. “They don’t know that we talked and drove in the car for a couple of hours.”
While plans change and the Grootes sometimes adjust their schedules on the fly, they plan to wrap up their trip home at a North Central game. That could be 2029 or 30.
And then Pam would like to fly somewhere warm.
Call Star Reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6644.