It started out as an idea for retirement for Peter and Pam Groote. But Pam started to have second thoughts about spending her retirement winters in Indiana.
“So we started doing it now,” Peter said. “We’re trying to get through it so if we want to move some place, we can.”
The task for the Grootes: Visit every high school basketball gym in Indiana for a game, document their visit with a photo or two (Pam posts their trips on her Facebook page) and, hopefully, find a local restaurant to enjoy before their game.
The Grootes started this journey fresh in 2018, starting from zero. Though they had attended North Central basketball games regularly (Pam works as a registrar at the school), their first “official” game together after planning this immense task was the regional championship in 2018 at Seymour between Romeo Langford and New Albany and Trayce Jackson-Davis and Center Grove.
Since then, the Grootes have been off and … driving. As of last week’s City tournament with visits to Roncalli and Howe (where Purdue Poly plays its home games), they have visited 110 gyms. There are, roughly, 300 more to go.
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“We’re looking at probably six or seven more years at a minimum,” Peter said. “We’re trying to do 50 a year, but it’s hard. We try to keep it semi-local on Fridays or during the week and then go somewhere farther on the weekend.”
Two weekends ago, the Grootes knocked out a trip to Barr-Reeve for a game against Loogootee on a Friday night, drove back to Bloomington and stayed with friends overnight. The next day, they saw the Class A second-ranked Lanesville girls team in the afternoon, visited Medora for the Southern Roads Conference tournament and then made it over to Scottsburg to see the Warriors host New Albany.
“Sometimes we get home and I’m like, ‘That was a fun day,’” Pam said. “Sometimes we get home and I’m like, ‘That was a long day.’ But it’s been more good than bad.”
The Grootes have been married for 25 years and have two grown children in daughter Sarah and son Ben. Peter, who played football and basketball at Knox High School, reignited his high school basketball fandom when Sarah was going through school at North Central and 2017 Mr. Basketball Kris Wilkes was playing for the Panthers.
But it was Pam’s idea to attend a game in every gym.
“It was something for us to do,” she said. “Rather than sit at home, I thought we should be doing something. There are games during the week, on the weekends and we see a lot of cool places.”
If possible, the Grootes try to mix in a visit to a local restaurant. Before a girls game at Taylor early this season, they ate at Choo Choo McGoo’s in Kokomo. In Mishawaka, they checked out Pasquale Rulli’s Pizza and in Medora they lucked into finding White’s Pizza.
“It was awesome,” Pam said. “A little hole-in-the-wall with like six tables and it was really probably the only place in town. I try to find different places for us to go eat.”
Peter, who works remotely for Cummins in the finance and information technology, admits the quality of the games sometimes takes a backseat to the goal of visiting every gym. He joked he has told North Central athletic director Andy Elkins to schedule some different opponents for the girls and boys on the road.
Peter said his favorite visits to date are to Mishawaka, the home of “The Cave”, which was built in 1924 and is the state’s oldest active gym, and to LaCrosse, a tiny gym in the northwest part 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,” Peter said with a laugh. “That is one of the best places to watch a game. It’s really small.”
The Grootes occasionally run into problems on their trips. Like when they went to Seeger for a game only to find an empty parking lot when they arrived at the school. The Grootes did not realize the Seeger boys play their games at the gym in Williamsport, which was built in 1958.
“We couldn’t find the gym,” Peter said. “So we’ll have to make another trip back there.”
The Grootes met a man in Lanesville who was attempting the same goal, though he mostly follows the Lanesville teams and attempts to mix in other visits when possible. Peter and Pam said the most difficult trips will probably be to northwest Indiana and Evansville, which are a significant distance and have several schools to visit.
But so far, so good. At each stop, the Grootes take a photo in front of the school name, a photo at center court and, possibly, a local restaurant. It is an education in Indiana high school basketball they both enjoy, though, Peter jokes, it may not appear that way sometimes.
“It’s funny, we’ll sit in a restaurant and people are probably looking at us because we’re just looking at our phones,” he said with a laugh. “They don’t know we’ve been in the car talking and driving for a couple hours.”
While plans change and the Grootes sometimes adjust their schedules on the fly, they do plan to end their journey back home at a North Central game. That could be in 2029 or '30.
And then, Pam would like to fly somewhere warm.
Call Star reporter Kyle Neddenriep at (317) 444-6644.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana high school basketball: Couple plans to visit all state's gyms