Remembering a hallowed place
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. “I started going to basketball games in that gym around 1960. It was the place to be in this community on a Friday or Saturday night. If you showed up late, you didn’t get a seat.”These words, spoken by former Glenwood resident and current Grand Junction Daily Sentinel sports editor Kent Mincer, echo the sentiments of many longtime locals who would plan their winter weekends around following the Glenwood Demon basketball squads.”Times have changed from a standpoint that when the Demons were playing at home, that gym is where you could find the entire town,” said 1971 Glenwood standout Kjell Mitchell. “The grade-school kids were in the locker room after the game to see us. They were playing under the bleachers. Everyone was there.”The Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium has seen more than 50 years of Demon basketball and felt all the excitement the teams provided for the town. As the current season winds down, however, the gym will host its last game. A new gym, part of the new high school complex, will be ready for the 2007-2008 season.Bob Chavez, a name which is still synonymous with Demon basketball, was at the Glenwood coaching helm from 1959-1989. During those years, his teams won 477 games and lost only 161, including boys state championships in 1975, 1979 and 1984. In fact, the 1979 team, which finished the season 23-0, is still the only undefeated team in Glenwood basketball history.Chavez’s fondest memories of a gym where he spent so much time during his youth also centered around Demon hoops being community support. “We won a lot of games in that gym and other teams didn’t like to come to Glenwood. We always had a great crowd,” said Chavez, who retired in 1989 with more victories than any other coach in Colorado.Chavez’s son Robbie was a three-year all-stater for the Demons from 1974-76, remembers the atmosphere well.”When the students would get out of class at the end of the day when we were playing at home, they would go directly to the lobby of the school and get in line so they would be assured of getting into the game. As a varsity player coming from home later in the day, I couldn’t get a seat in the gym to watch the JV’s play because it was already packed,” said the younger Chavez, who went on to coach the University of Portland. He led his Portland team to the 1996 NCAA basketball tournament by upsetting favored Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Tournament.
The basketball memories began in this historic gymnasium in 1953 when it was built as part of the new Garfield County High School. This was also the year that the Grand Avenue Bridge was constructed over the Colorado River. The year was 1959 when the school’s name was changed to Glenwood High School to accommodate the new RE-1 school district alignment and replace the outdated county schools system.The gymnasium itself was commonly known as the Demon Gym until the night of Dec. 13, 2002, when it was officially named the Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium in honor of Chavez and his coaching counterpart Harlan Spencer, who in 1975, started the Demon girls basketball program as its first coach.”The gym dedication ceremony was very special to everyone who had ever been involved with Glenwood sports,” said Scott Bolitho, who was a three-year all-conference player for Chavez in the late 70s. “It was good to see so many former players come together to honor Chav and Spence.”Spencer recalls the early years of his program when one of the biggest hurdles to overcome was just finding games for his new team. “We could only get nine games that first year,” he said. “It was a make up schedule. You took games anywhere you could find them.”Within five short seasons, Spencer had guided his girls to a third-place finish in the 1980 state basketball tournament with a win over Wray High School. Spencer recalls how the long-standing success of the boys program served as a motivator for his girls. “The girls always watched the boys win games in that gym,” he said. “And winning carries over.”
Much of the winning tradition began with the arrival of Chavez as head coach during the 1959-60 season. That year, he inherited a 5-foot-10 sophomore guard who would lead the Demons all the way to the state title game before losing to the Akron Rams – his name was Tom Vidakovich. Glenwood was hosting the league tournament that season, and regular-season league champion Meeker was the favorite to win it.”We had maybe a .500 record at the time and nobody gave us a chance,” said Vidakovich, who went on to become a three-year starter for Colorado State University. “We ended up beating Meeker in the final and went on to state. The team knew all along that anything was possible in that gym. Something special started that day.” A 1965 all-stater, Albert Blanc, who still holds the gymnasium scoring record of 48 points in a game his senior year, remembers his best moment in the home gym. “It was my sophomore year in 1963 when I finally got into the starting lineup. Wearing the red and white in front of that crowd. That was big to me,” said Blanc, who is now the head boys basketball coach at Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs.
When it comes to basketball memories of the Glenwood gymnasium though, John Samuelson, who will turn 92 this coming April, recalls hundreds. It was Samuelson’s father who purchased the Glenwood Post in 1936. John began working in the family business in 1946 upon graduation from the University of Colorado school of journalism. The last twenty years of Samuelson’s writing career were spent as the sports editor at the Post before his retirement in 1982.Samuelson’s favorite memory is a playoff game that took place on a Monday night in late February in 1971. This was an epic game that stirred the memories and emotions of everyone who was there.The Demons and the Steamboat Sailors ended up in a deadlock at the top of the conference standings to end the ’71 regular season. There were no coin flips back then, the two teams would meet on the court to settle the issue. Since the league tournament was slated to be played in Glenwood later that week, the Demons were awarded the home court advantage for the game.”To this day, I have never seen so many people in that gym,” said Samuelson.”They had to turn people away at the door,” added Mitchell, who was a participant in the game. “There were closed-circuit televisions set up in the auditorium for those who didn’t make it in, and the auditorium was full.”The Demons went on to defeat Steamboat that night. “It was 63-62 in favor of the good guys,” chuckled Samuelson.Glenwood defeated Steamboat again in the finals of the league tournament that weekend, but in an ironic twist of fate, it was the Sailors who got the last laugh by going on to the state tournament and capturing the AA crown by defeating Highland Ault in the title game. The Demons managed to defeat St. Francis High School of Denver to capture the consolation championship.
All things eventually have an ending, and with the construction of the new Glenwood High School campus will come a new gymnasium and physical education facility where the Demon varsity teams will play their games and start a new chapter in the school’s rich sports history. Unless the No. 1-seeded Moffat County and No. 2 Pueblo Central lose tonight, this evening’s Glenwood girls vs. Northridge game in the Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium will be the last played by Demon varsity teams on the historic court.For old timers who remember Kevin Flohr’s two-handed dunk in 1979 that bent the rim and stopped play for almost thirty minutes, or current Glenwood High students who marvel at how well Sam Ciani maneuvers under the basket, the gym has hosted memories that will last forever.Most Glenwood fans hope the new gymnasium will still carry the name Chavez-Spencer, so the generations of athletes to come will know of the two men, who along with coaches Nick Stubler and Don Miller, contributed so much to the school and meant so much to the people who played for them.Editor’s note: Mike Vidakovich attended Glenwood Springs High School and was part of the Demons’ 1979 state championship team. Tom Vidakovich is Mike’s older brother.
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The Coal Ridge High boys suffered their first 3A Western Slope League loss of the year Thursday night on the road at Gunnison, falling to the defending league champion Cowboys 65-45.