LUSK – As the winter season gets underway for Niobrara County High School, one of the centerpieces of our community is celebrating a birthday. It was just over 60 years ago when the construction of a new gymnasium and auditorium was nearing completion.
A bond election in the fall of 1960 allowed the Niobrara County School District to move forward with the project, but the fall and early winter work had fallen behind, and the deadline of Dec 31, 1961 passed.
According to the Jan. 4, 1962 Lusk Herald, the floor was being laid while some electrical work and painting had yet to be completed. It would take about two weeks for the floor finishing to be ready and was noted that the school board assumed responsibility to install the bleachers.
Jon Burnham recalled playing at the fairgrounds before the gym was ready. “It was so nice to be on a good floor instead of concrete and tile. We had some guys with shin splint issues, and that new floor helped.” Granted it didn’t help right away as the Tigers had just one practice on the new court.
The first event took place on Jan. 26, 1962 as the Tiger basketball team hosted Torrington. An estimated 500 spectators watched the first game as the Trailblazers won 51-37 over George Shinker’s Tigers. The first win came against Gillette 60-45 in the regular season finale on Feb. 26, 1962.
The NCHS wrestling team made their new home debut on Feb. 9-10, 1962 with duals against Glendo, Newcastle and Torrington. The Tigers fell to the Dogies 32-20 while the B squad defeated the Eagles 22-10. The following day, third-year head coach Orvale Borgialli’s team beat Torrington 24-21, while the reserves lost 29-13.
Most likely christened with the name Tiger Gym early on, there were no sanctioned sports for females at the time. The girls’ locker room was mostly a token, while the boys had a new home underneath with access to the football field and gym.
Curtains and seating for the auditorium were finally installed early in February. Community fundraising for a new Baldwin grand piano was successful and delivered in early March.
The first event in the new auditorium was the senior class presentation of “Murder Takes the Veil” as the matinee took place on Feb. 15, 1962. Four days later they performed again to an over-capacity crowd in the beautiful, comfortable, 526 seat facility.
Director Margaret Bauersachs commented, “It was a great thrill to coach this first play in this beautiful new auditorium.”
The first concert took place on March 9, 1962 as the NCHS band and chorus performed under the guidance of fourth-year music director Durell Thompson. Once again, seats were full of enthusiastic and impressed spectators.
In addition to the gym and auditorium was a lobby connecting the pair, complete with a concession stand, ticket booth and new restrooms. The entryway received an upgrade in the early 1990’s with the addition of the music room, extended lobby and major landscaping.
Even though there’s a bit of old age creeping in, Tiger Gym has hosted too many events and championship teams to begin counting. With murals and banners now adorning the walls, our venerable home is one of the most recognizable in the state. When the band room addition was completed, it presented new opportunities. The auditorium, band room and areas under the stage are priceless reminders (like the banners and trophies that fill the gym and lobby) of the pride, tradition and history both of these arenas bring to our community.
(Writer’s note: Most of the information in this story came from the 1961 and 1962 Lusk Herald archives.)