For decades, Wade E. Miller Gym was a shining star in Middletown, but over the years — compared to newer high school gyms in the region — it lost its luster.
Now, 65 years after Miller Gym opened, its younger brother, Wade E. Miller Arena, is about to open on the campus of Middletown High School. The goal, school officials said, is to create the same excitement throughout the city that was felt when Miller Gym opened in December 1952.
After closing Miller Gym on Friday night against Butler County rival Hamilton, Middletown’s boys basketball team will play Lima Senior at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the new arena. The girls team plays Colerain at 2 p.m.
Fans accustomed to watching games in Miller Gym, named after the former Middletown City Schools superintendent, will see the technological advancements made in the last 65 years. Miller Arena features two professional style baskets on Jerry Lucas Court, four 9-foot by 12-foot LED scoreboards, bright lights, a high-quality sound system, a walking track, a wrestling room, a strength center, athletic offices, trophy cases and an attached community room.
“All the bells and whistles,” Middletown High School Athletic Director Aaron Zupka said.
Miller Arena is just part of the improvements and building taking place on Breiel Boulevard. Middletown High School, which opened in 1969, has been renovated as part of a $96 million project that includes a new Middletown Middle School being built next to the high school.
Voters approved a $55 million bond issue in May 2014 to pay for the construction.
The district’s business manager George Long said there is no “specific breakout” of costs to build the arena, since the bidding on the construction was for the entire project.
Kevin Aldridge, Middletown’s girls basketball coach, called Miller Arena “the best in the state” and said it “signifies a new beginning” for the district.
He believes Wade E. Miller Arena will be the “envy” of Middies opponents and their fans.
“This is something that they can truly hang their hats on,” he said of the district. “It makes you feel good when you’re in a place like this. It’s more than sports. It’s the total package. This is a sign of things to come for our community. We are investing in the total person. We are on our way up. Sports is the great equalizer. My hope is that it will transition to what they are doing with the rest of the building.”
The new arena also will give the district an opportunity to host basketball, volleyball and wrestling tournaments, which wasn’t an option at Wade E. Miller Gym because of the restricted parking and outdated facilities.
Holding events at the arena will generate revenue for nearby restaurants and hotels, according to Zupka.
For this weekend, though, officials are focusing on “the next chapter in our history books,” he said.
“It will be a magical night,” Zupka said about Saturday’s openers.
Zupka appreciates the important role Miller Gym played in the city. How it was the “place to be seen” every Friday night, especially during the mid-1950s when Lucas led the Middies to a 76-game winning streak and back-to-back state titles.
“Everybody has a story about that place,” he said.
He hopes that same affection can be attached to Miller Arena, what he called “Wade E. Miller 2.0.”
“The history and memories don’t go away. The (seven state championship) banners will still be up there. That never goes away. Wade E. Miller never will be replaced. It’s not the brick and mortar that matters. It’s the people and the memories,” Zupka said.