Prep Boys Basketball

Blue Devil Gym in running for state's best hoops venue

By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 27, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- The black Ford Explorer turned off Maine Street, rolled up in front of Quincy High School and stopped amidst a relatively empty parking lot.

The driver rolled the window down and asked where that night's game was being played.

The student walked on the sidewalk in front of the building pointed to the west to Baldwin Elementary School and said they'd find Blue Devil Gym in there.

"Seriously?" the driver questioned. "The Blue Devils play in a grade school?"

The student simply smiled.

"It's not a just a grade school gym," he said. "It's Blue Devil Gym."

Andy Douglas has heard similar stories many times over since he became the head coach of the QHS boys basketball program in 2014, and the reaction he sees from those unsure of such surroundings is often priceless.

"They'll open the doors and they're in awe," said Douglas, a 2000 QHS graduate who recently completed his sixth season as the head coach of one of the state's most historic programs. "As far as a gym goes, there's not a bad seat in the house. There's so many special things about it."

So it should be no surprise the venerable facility is battling for the right to be called be the best prep gym in Illinois.

The Twitter account @HSLogos opened up the #IllinoisGymShowdown on May 11 with 384 schools divided into eight brackets. Six rounds of voting led to the final eight and Quincy's Blue Devil Gym faced Evanston's Beardsley ymium in the quarterfinals.

Voting was scheduled to end Wednesday morning with Blue Devil Gym holding a decisive edge as of late Tuesday with more than 2,750 total votes cast. A semifinal matchup with Moline's historic Wharton Field House is expected, while Collinsville's Fletcher Gym and Ottawa's Kingman Gym are expected to be in the other semifinal.

"I was hoping there'd be a few hundred votes per matchup," said Levi Maierhofer, who just completed his junior year at Seneca High School, runs the website and created the #IllinoisGymShowdown. "Especially in the last week, it's far exceeded that. I didn't know it would get this large.

"I was hoping some teams would rally around it. It seems to be running smoothly, but it's a lot more popular than I expected."

It's just another reminder how important high school basketball is in each community.

It always has been the case in Quincy.

"From my perspective, I've always known this is one of the best gyms and atmospheres in high school," Douglas said. "And it's something we tell our players every year. We tell them, ‘You guys don't understand how blessed you are to have the support that you have and the gym that you have.'

"We go on our road trips and no one consistently gets a crowd like we do. For us to have that facility and for people to recognize it, that's pretty special."

Most QHS players understand it, but don't fully appreciate it until they go somewhere else.

"If you don't get to experience anything else, you think it's the same for everybody," Tim Huseman, a 1982 QHS graduate who played on the 1980-81 Class AA state championship team, said when the program celebrated its 100th anniversary. "You don't realize no one else has it this nice.

"It spoils you later on."

Blue Devil Gym opened in 1957 with the first game played against Keokuk on Dec. 30, 1957. Since then, the Blue Devils have won more than 700 games at home with a winning percentage exceeding 83 percent.

They've gone undefeated at home eight times and put together a 72-game home winning streak from 1978-83.

The history and associated with that success can be seen on the north and south walls inside the gym where state appearances, Western Big Six Conference championships and school records are displayed. Banners signifying the 13 state trophies the Blue Devils have won hang from the rafters over the court.

On the north wall above the balcony hangs the largest high school videoboard in the state, a fan-o-meter and an all-time victory tote board. On the south wall, a full scoreboard is flanked by two murals highlighting the importance of Quincy basketball.

Add to that the pregame ceremony where the lights go out, a devil mascot emerges from beneath the bleachers with a flaming pitchfork and circles the gym getting the crowd into a frenzy and Blue Devil Gym is seen as a one-in-a-million environment.

"When you see the Blue Devil come out, and you're sitting up there (in the grade school section), it kind of becomes imbedded in your mind, especially if you play basketball, that this is what you want to do," said Aaron Shoot, the point guard on the 2018 team that won a WB6 title and a regional championship. "You want to be out on that court in front of all those people playing in front of the city of Quincy."

For many, there's no place they'd rather be.

"It's home," Douglas said. "It's somewhere I've spent so much time as a player and as a coach. I've shared this story numerous times, but when we lived in St. Peters, Mo., my dad brought his team to Quincy to watch a game and ever since then there was nothing else for me. It was just Blue Devil basketball.

"To walk into that gym, into that environment was unbelievable back then and it still is now."