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The End of an Era

Posted on Friday, March 15, 2024 at 2:08 pm


It’s true that all good things must come to an end, but that still doesn’t make it easy to say goodbye. Yet, that’s exactly what the Jasper Middle School boys’ and girls’ basketball teams had to do after playing their final game at the school’s longtime gymnasium last Friday night.

The last game marked the beginning of a much larger move that will unfold over the spring and summer months once the new JMS location officially opens, complete with its brand new gymnasium. As of now, the new building is set to open in August of 2024.

“It’s significant because there have been so many memories, so many years where people have contributed to building this place… it’s bittersweet,” JMS principal Heath Thacker said. “We’re ready to go to the new building, but there’s so much nostalgia here that makes leaving difficult. As of tonight… Tonight’s it.”

Before the nearly half-a-century-old gymnasium had its final buzzer, it filled every purple set of bleachers with students, parents, past alumni, and former coaches. They gathered not only to cheer on the current young Warrior squads but also to celebrate all those who had graced the storied hardwood before.

“It was great to see all the past head coaches recognized who helped make the program what it was,” JMS junior varsity girls’ head coach Brian Gossett said. “It meant a lot to me personally because my last year in middle school was also Coach [Mike] Minter’s last year as a coach. The impact he and Grant Webb had on my love for basketball and coaching is something I will always be thankful for.”

Mike Minter is considered a cornerstone of JMS and is synonymous with the basketball court that he coached on for more than 20 years.

“I hate that there’s not going to be any more basketball there because there’s been a lot of good games in that gym,” Minter said.

Gossett and his longtime friend and JMS head coach of the girls’ varsity team and boy’s junior varsity, Chip Wilson, thought as much almost 23 years ago when they nicknamed the gymnasium “The Minter Center” and gave their coach a purple plaque with the name engraved on it.

The plaque, although it used to hang above the entrance of Minter’s old office, still resides inside of it to this day.

“It meant a lot,” Minter said. “It felt good, though, that they thought about naming it that.”

Minter was part of the school going all the way back to when it was the old Marion County High School, teaching and coaching for 41 years before retiring. He was the final teacher to begin their tenure at the middle school before retiring.

“He is one of the cornerstones that this place is built off of,” Thacker said. “There are a lot of things that don’t happen at Jasper Middle School without him. There are a lot of things that were provided for Jasper Middle School because of him. He comes and visits us quite a bit, and it’s like he never misses a beat.”

Minter, along with former JMS football coach Bobby Gravitt, who coached for over two decades himself, were two of the longest-tenured coaches in school history.

“If you’re building a Mount Rushmore of Jasper Middle School people, they’ve [Minter and Gravitt] got to be your first on the left side,” Thacker said. “They’ve cemented their place within this program. We’re not here without [Bobby Gravitt] as well.”

In between the girls and boys games on Friday night, the school brought a number of former coaches and teachers to center court who had been a pivotal part of the program, including Minter, Webb, Dale Howard, Park Wilbourne, Joan Witcher, and Shelley Phillips.

But standing beside them were the present leaders of the basketball program: Chip Wilson, who has been coaching for 19 years in various capacities, all thanks to Minter who influenced him as early as his eighth-grade year, and Clayton Wilson, who has served as the boys’ varsity coach for the past two seasons.

“My very first game, a lot of the old coaches came, all the way down from Nick [Pickett], Bobby Gravitt, Grant Webb, and Mike Minter,” Clayton Wilson said. “I’m just glad to be a part of it. I really am. I bleed purple now, and I love it.

“For me, this is where I started, here in Marion County. Even though it’s been just a short two years, it’s like, man… it’s not going to be the same [in the new building]. Even though we have a nice, newer gym, when I look back on my time at all the championships we won, beating other teams, my first 8th-grade night, it’ll come from this building just like anyone else’s. Those will be my first memories of Marion County.”

As of now, it’s uncertain what will become of the old gymnasium or the JMS building as a whole. But as one era has concluded, another is set to begin, with an empty building waiting to be filled with its own memories, and that starts with the people there now.

“The people are still going to be there,” Thacker said. “They’re going to be in the new building. It’s just going to look a little different.”

The Marion Tribune – December 21, 2023