On a recent Saturday night, the lights were turned off after the last game in the 45 year history of boys basketball in Robert and Dorothy Miller Gym in Monticello.
When the gym opened in the fall of 1958, it became the home of the “Little Sages” of Washington Elementary School that had earlier that fall became the single 7th and 8th grade building of the District in Monticello with arch rivals being the other two K-8 buildings in the district Cisco and White Heath.
Admission for that game was dime for students and a quarter for the adults. It featured an all digital numbers Nissen Scoremaster scoreboard. It would never be “the clock is in the red” for the gym. Also an unheard of feature that at the time which was barely found outside the university gyms of the era—glass backboards. Of course, they were the IHSA fan shaped variety; a feature that found many state bound high school teams practicing in the gym on the Thursday night before playing the next day in Huff Gym. In addition the gym had a solid nearly sound proof door to divide gym so that boys and girls PE classes could share it.
The gym was almost not built as it is today. After the referendum was pasted in 1956 to build New Washington; Robert “Bob” Miller, for whom and his wife Dorothy the gym was named on January 20, 1999, was elected to the Board of Education. As one of the greatest supporters of Sages athletics; he knew that as nice as it was as grade school gym was no where near as large as the gyms under construction at Tuscola and Arcola. He convinced his fellow board members to scrap the plan we see today and build something the size of those gyms for the High School to play in. Unfortunately, the steel workers went out on strike and with the steel for the planned structure already on site, the plan to enlarge the facility as it was being constructed was scraped.
The High School continued to use Moore Memorial Gym for its games until the huge crowds in the 16 team Holiday Tournament forced it to move across the courtyard to Washington Gym. A few years later fueled by the great teams of the mid to late 60’s all the High School games were moved to their present home in the 72-73 season when Hall of Fame Coach Bob Trimble took over the program. Washington and the High School shared the facility until the Monticello Middle School was opened in 2003.
The Illinois Elementary Association conducted it’s one class boys state final tournament in the gym twice in the mid-60’s. The gym has also hosted IHSA Regionals in both basketball and wrestling. When no practice facility was available on campus the University of Illinois Men’s Basketball team used the facility from time to time.
The gym was also home to many other district activities including High School Graduation and District Promotions from 1959-2003. The stage in the gym featured a light system that until the Assembly Hall was completed in 1963 was better than anything on the University of Illinois campus.
Beginning in the spring of 1959 and a continuing through last May the Monticello High School Music Department produced a talent show featuring department students in a what iscalled “Stage Show”. The senior class of 1966 produced “Oklahoma” on the stage completewith a surrey with the fringe on the top. In the early 70’s choral director Lynn Wenzel began producing Madrigal Dinners in the gym which was an area first for high schools.Robert and Dorothy Miller Gym will not go completely dark for high school activities as the Athletic Boosters Sages will continue to use it for the girls part of the current Sages Holiday Hoopla.
As Wide World of Sport used to open with “From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat” Robert and Dorothy Miller Gym has seen it all in its years of service. Hopefully, the promised renovation will come to pass and our good and faithful servant will live on with its past glory in memory and years more of service in the future.