The case for a gymnasium rebranding

Why it is time to reforge the East gym’s identity
The case for a gymnasium rebranding

When Normal High laced up their cleats, preparing to take to the gridiron against Bloomington, the nineteen-man football roster had no idea they’d become a part of local lore, that the annual Intercity contest would one day be the stuff of legend. 

On that fall Saturday, October 27, 1934, only eleven members of the Normal roster would see the field. 

Eleven. 

The absolute bare minimum required to field a team. 

Eleven, playing each snap, each down, each and every series on both sides of the ball, as Community’s head coach Ralph “Hap” Arends made no substitutions in the 19-12 victory over Bloomington High. 

Eleven “iron men” read the “Daily Pantagraph” sports section on Sunday morning, a sports writer lauding those eleven’s resilience, strength and athletic prowess on the field.

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  • The original “iron men” where helmed by head coach Mr. Hap Arends. A gym at Kingsley Jr. High, the former Normal Community, bears his name.

  • Midway through an Oct. 28, 1934 Daily Pantagraph article, the Ironmen nickname was born. Under the subhead “Team of Iron Men,” the text reads: “You can call the Normal gridders an outfit of “iron me” because Coach Ralph Aends did not use a single substitute, not even for the 125 pound Ed Robards, who played a bangup game at guard for the full 40 minutes. Showing suprising scoring punch against Bloomington’s previously sturdy defense, Normal marched for touchdowns on three occasions, taking advantage of every scoring opportunity. The Community lads, rated no better than an even chance before the game, outcharged the Bloomington forwards and used perfect timing and deception to piere the Purple defense redeatedly.”

 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

For almost 90 years, Normal has embraced the moniker and the mascot, with generations of athletes inspiring to live up to the “Ironmen” title every time they took the field, the diamond, the track, the court… 

And while the origin of the Ironmen name is legendary, the courts they compete on lack the same luster. 

When the new Normal Community High School building opened 20 years ago, the Ironmen left the rich legacies of Neuman and Arends gymnasiums behind; now, the Kingsley Cougars call them home.   

When the Ironmen hit the road, they visit venues like Morton’s Potterdome or Moline’s Wharton Fieldhouse, the “Madison Square Garden of the Quad Cities.” They take on Bloomington at the Frank. 

And where do the Ironmen basketball and volleyball programs call home?

The East gym.

A name with no legacy. No legend. No history. 

A name that strikes fear in the hearts of no one. 

Inspires school pride in none.  

A name so bland, so blah, that students know the gymnasium as another name.

The big gym.

Big time blah

After the dedication of Dick Tharpe Field in 2021, honoring the iconic Ironmen football coach, it is time to continue recognizing the rich history and legacy of Normal athletics. 

With a mascot as unique and steeped in tradition as the Ironmen, it’s time to rebrand the East gym to something more fitting. 

What does one consider when christening a sports venue? 

Historical significance–a storied coach with a successful career, school tradition and legacy? School identity–school mascot and colors? Impact–is it bold and memorable? Inclusivity–a name that honors all those who participate in that space? Accuracy? 

The answer is every one of those factors. 

Sure, rename the gym after the winningest coach on the court, the only person to coach there these last 20 yearsBut “Witzig Gym” ignores the accomplishments of the Orange and Black’s other athletic programs. It ignores the achievements of the girls basketball programs, of   girls volleyball, the successes of the dance and cheer programs. 

Pick a name that seemingly pops–the Iron Ring, the Iron Dome, the Community Coliseum, the Community Center–and be prepared for years of criticism. They are inaccurate, unoriginal and uninspired.

The solution? 

The Ironmen, knights clad in a suit of shining armor, exudes an imposing presence. Ironmen stand tall and proud, formidable warriors equipped with swords and shields, ready to defend their noble house. Ironmen, with an aura of strength and determination, ready to uphold the principles of chivalry in both word and deed.

To get the East gym with the times, we need to return to medieval times to find a name that evokes the imagery of the Ironmen.  

While the easy answer is The Castle, we can be more creative.


The Iron Gauntlet

A glove? Really, name the gym after the metal glove that covered a knight’s hands and lower arms?

Nope. 

Today, gauntlet more commonly means facing a series of challenges or difficult situations. That is just what the Ironmen want to pose to their opponents–a challenge. 

Historically, as a form of military punishment, a person was forced to “run the gauntlet,” running between two rows of soldiers who struck them with weapons or fists.

Running the Iron Gauntlet wouldn’t pummel opponents with punches. Instead, they’d be pounded by points, as the Iron offenses strike with their scoring abilities. 

With a name like the Iron Gauntlet, opponents would know they are in for a true test, a place where every win would have to be earned.


The Keep // The Citadel // The Fortress

All variations on a theme, The Keep, The Citadel and The Fortress, are all terms for a castle’s stronghold, bastions of resiliency, strength and protection from outside invaders.   

In the medieval world, the keep stood tall and proud as the central tower within a castle, a symbol of power and defense. Adopting “The Keep” suggests that the gym is not merely a place to play games but a fortress where the Ironmen defend their honor. It evokes an image of determination and unwavering commitment, echoing the role of the keep in safeguarding the castle against external threats.

The image of a keep, with stocky walls, small windows and a sturdy door, further reflects the Ironmen’s defensive tenacity, a core principle at the heart of Community’s athletics programs.

The Citadel, a fortified structure that sits deep within a city’s walls, perched high above the Community it protects. This potential name emphasizes the location’s significance within the community. A citadel is a hub of strength, discipline and unity. 

Much like a citadel, strategically positioned for defense, the gym is a central point where the Ironmen rally together, not just as a team, but as an integral part of Normal Community. It symbolizes the shared commitment to fortify the school’s spirit through sportsmanship and athletic prowess.

The Fortress, whether it’s the towering stone walls, the impenetrable defense or the indomitable spirit within, is a representation of the Ironmen’s dedication to excellence in every aspect of the game.

In the quest for the ideal name for the East gymnasium, The Keep, The Citadel and The Fortress each presents a compelling choice. They encapsulate a unique facet of strength, unity and resilience that mirrors the ethos of the Ironmen.


The Dungeon

The idea of a dungeon calls to mind images of imprisonment, torture and suffering. It is a symbol of challenge. The name offers an aur of intimidation.

This is not an environment where opposing athletes enter willingly. This is a crucible of competition, facing trials that test the spirit.

It’s difficult to escape a dungeon. Even more strenuous to leave the East gym victorious, and with a name like The Dungeon, the difficulty would only be exaggerated. 

For the Iron to call The Dungeon home would mean Community doesn’t fear adversity but embraces it. This is a place where the Ironmen forge camaraderie and unity in the face of collective trials.

Regardless of the choice–The Castle, The Iron Gauntlet, The Keep, The Citadel, The Fortress or The Dungeon–the time has arrived to abolish the East gym and adopt a more fitting name.  

History tells us that journalists can make history of their own, one article, one reference, and the Normal Community has been the Ironmen for decades since. 

But the Inkspot wants you to weigh in when we reference the Iron’s home court–what should we call it? 

 

Cast your below. 

This poll has ended.

What name should Community adopt to rename the East gym?

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