By ZACH BAKER
For The Review Times
Thom Loomis has had plenty of experiences at Fostoria High School’s gymnasium.
He played four years of basketball for the Redmen, graduating in 1978. He later became a coach, leading a number of schools’ basketball programs.
Now, as Fostoria’s boys coach, Loomis is attempting to bring the program back to prominence. This past year, he led the Redmen to a 16-8 record, their winningest season since 2007-08 (21-2).
“Over the years, Fostoria’s basketball program … it’s been down for a while,” Loomis said, “and I like to think that we’ve started to turn the corner to get it back over the last couple of years.”
Loomis is big on Fostoria’s tradition.
A part of that is the gym.
The high school opened in 1970, and games were played there that season.
Loomis said his memories of the building go back further. As a child, he lived on Westhaven Drive in Fostoria.
“I literally grew up 250 yards from the school,” Loomis said. “And, so, as a young kid … while they were building the school, I was over there a lot during the construction phase.”
Loomis said that back then, the construction site wasn’t secure. That allowed him to walk through the shell of the building a few times.
“Today, I’d have probably got arrested for trespassing,” he said. “Back then, nobody thought anything about it.”
What that shell turned into was one of the best — and loudest — venues in the area.
And, despite a new floor and other renovations, the gym remains a popular place for sports.
“Something about the closeness of it,” said Fostoria Athletic Director Michele Wolf. “It’s a pretty big gym, but there’s a good seat everywhere in the gym. Your fans on the north side of the gym are right on the floor. Teams are right on the floor; fans are right behind the teams.”
When you talk to people about the gym, they almost always bring up the old bleachers.
“When the bleachers run baseline to baseline, and I’m not sure what it goes up — 10 to 12 rows on each side — people would fill those,” Loomis said.
Loomis said he attended a number of big games as a child, including a contest with Findlay that packed the arena. He got to see players like Dan Hipsher, who starred at Fostoria before going on to Bowling Green State University and then having a distinguished college coaching career. He saw Jeff Tyson, who shares the boys program’s individual game scoring record — 49 points — with Jon Diebler. Tyson went on to play at Western Michigan and later was drafted by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers (as Diebler would be, decades later, after record-breaking runs at Upper Sandusky and Ohio State).
“I think that kind of just set the tone for great crowds,” Loomis said, “and I think just the way the gym was designed, with the wooden bleachers in the old, original gym, just going up, it seemed, forever, lending to great noise.”
It’s something Bill Beaston experienced as a player and a coach. When he was a student at Lakota, he participated in a couple of Fostoria holiday tournaments.
“The thing that I like about it is that for a holiday tournament at that time, there wasn’t a ton of people there, but it was still loud,” Beaston said, “And, even the people that were in the upper deck, the way that the gym is put together, they’re still right on top of you.”
Loomis said that as a player, the noise was such that he and his teammates used “baseball-style” hand signals to communicate. As an opposing coach for Tiffin Columbian, Beaston said his players had hand signals as well, though they weren’t always necessary.
“Most gyms, most environments, my voice was loud enough to carry through that,” he said. “It typically wasn’t an issue.”
What was an issue — even if it was only in the minds of opposing players — was a story that got around about one of the hoops.
“For years, there was a myth that the rim on the visitor’s side was an inch or two lower than 10-foot,” Beaston said. “Some people would go out there before the pregame warmups started, and people (would say) ‘Oh, I can dunk, it is lower.’ Of course, I’m certain that it’s not.”
Things have changed a bit after renovations in recent years. The old bleachers are gone, but the gym remains a two-level affair on both sides. And the gym itself is full of mementos from the past.
“The old bleachers used to add a little bit more nostalgia to it, but the new bleachers (which are black and red) just kind of make the colors pop,” Wolf said. “Over the past eight years, nine years or so, toward the end of (former Athletic Director) Aaron Weidner’s tenure, he had that new gym floor installed with the current administration then, and we’ve just kind of continued to maintain major pieces of nostalgia, and major pieces of history and keep those there, while still making it a little bit more current.”
The gym includes plenty of reminders of Fostoria’s athletic past, including pieces of the old floor, which hang on the walls.
“Having that old gym floor, those pieces on the wall, is pretty unique,” Wolf said. “I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere else I’ve gone to. Even all the banners … the reds are all the same, there’s no incorporation of gray. This is “¦ you are in Fostoria’s gym. There is no question about it.”
Another big piece of the gym’s story is the fans.
Nearly two decades after graduating from the school, Loomis returned to Fostoria as a junior varsity coach.
“I can remember that there were people there in 1996-97 sitting in the same reserved seats they were sitting in 1977-78,” Loomis said. “There were families that, year after year, you could just count on. You knew that they were gonna be there, sitting in those reserved seats. As a player, and even as a coach, it was nice to count on that kind of support.”
And that support has also helped the school become a premier host for postseason games.
Beaston had an example.
“I remember watching a district final that Liberty-Benton beat Old Fort in,” he said. “There wasn’t an empty seat there, and it was literally the loudest gym I’ve ever been in in my life.”
Wolf said the postseason games also are a part of FHS’ tradition.
But it takes work.
“Getting the staffing to help is actually pretty easy,” she said. “My entire athletic staff, our teaching staff and some old game staff people take so much pride in hosting those tournaments and inviting people in.”
Wolf also mentioned the efforts of school custodian Kenny Hark come postseason time.
“He’s in there on his hands and knees, polishing, spot polishing, polishing spots on the floor that need a little bit of work,” she said. “He puts that blood, sweat and tears into that gym while he’s jamming to Phil Collins at 11, 12 o’clock at night. He’s our second shift guy, but he stays an extra hour or two that time of year to get things done and have things looking right. To him, that’s almost like his backyard. He wants it looking nice, and there’s just so much pride.”
It’s something Loomis said opposing coaches appreciate.
“Invariably, you’ll talk to the coach, and they’ll tell you, ‘This is always a goal for us,'” Loomis said. “We know that our tournament trail is going through Fostoria. We just love to come here and play.'”
Beaston, who coached Columbian when it and Fostoria were each members of the Northern Ohio League — and in doing so coached against future NFL star Micah Hyde — shared the sentiment.
“It’s a fantastic venue,” he said.
To Loomis, it’s more than a venue.
“It’s truly just a part of my life and my history,” he said.