Throughout the years, it’s always been a happening place.

Some are more exciting than others. Some are better-played than others. But the annual boys high school basketball game between Terre Haute North and South at Hulman Center is always … well, a happening.

This year, more than 5,000 fans arrived earlier on Friday than they would have in past years for the usual curtain-raiser, a boys junior varsity contest.

Why? For the first time since the two schools played their first boys game in 1971 at North’s gym, a girls game between the two cross-town rivals was part of a girl/boy doubleheader, beginning a new chapter in the long-standing rivalry.

“I’ve been following North-South ballgames … since before there was a North-South when it was a Wiley, Garfield, Gerstmeyer type of thing,” recalled retired longtime educator Bob Mardis. “Had a couple grandkids that were here playing, Matt [former North player and current Indiana State men’s basketball assistant coach] and Lauren [also a former North player]. We’ve had some personal interest to follow players.

“So many of them I’ve worked with in the Elks Hoopshoot. I’ll see them coming up when they are in the fourth or fifth grade. I remember Megan Craft playing tonight for South. You could win six years in the Hoopshoot, she won five out of the six in the free throw contest.

“Laura Burdick, she was one of our Hoopshoot winners from North. She won a couple of times. So it’s been fun for me to watch them develop.”

The South girls jumped to an early lead, then fended off numerous North rallies to win 56-52 and claim the first “Champions of the Court” traveling trophy.

Despite his girls suffering the defeat, North Coach Mike Allen enjoyed the atmosphere — if not the outcome — saying, “Well, I’ll tell you what, you couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere to play in. There’s a lot of people out there. They were in the game and they were cheering for their team.”

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