Renovation has started on one of the Dayton area’s most storied basketball gyms.
Benner Field House served as the home to Xenia High School’s only state championship boys basketball team in 1942. Tom Blackburn coached that team before becoming a legend at the University of Dayton. The beloved building has seen greats like Jerry Lucas play on its court. After a devastating tornado destroyed much of Xenia, including the the attached high school, Benner Field House remained as a testament to the city’s resilience and rebirth.
Field house gyms – like the facilities seen in the movie “Hoosiers” – are treasured relics. Few remain. In Xenia, the deteriorating 1930s era Benner Field House is being revived.
The Xenia school board announced the approval of a contract with Quality Masonry Co. for $654,150 to complete the necessary repairs to the exterior of the building, which is cracked and crumbling.
The plan includes repairing exterior concrete, installing new steps and railings to the front of the building, and replacing windows and doors, according to Xenia Community Schools spokeswoman Wendy Planicka.
The Doug Adams Trust is expected to fund renovations to the interior of the building, Planicka added.
Built in 1939, Benner Field House was renovated after it was damaged by the infamous F-5 tornado that destroyed much of Xenia on April 3, 1974. It has many nicknames – including the “Snake Pit,” the “Blue Pit” and simply “The Pit” – and hosted some of the best Buccaneers teams and players until the new Xenia High School opened in 1978.
Among those were the 1942 Xenia Central boys state title team that was coached by future University of Dayton head coach Tom Blackburn. Jerry Lucas of Middletown played in the dark bowl setting before a storied career at Ohio State and in the NBA.
Benner Field House still has its signature girder pillars around which spectators must maneuver, a common architectural feature in the 30s and 40s.
In 1971, the building was named to honor Carl H. Benner, who was a teacher and administrator in the Xenia school district for five decades. The facility is closed for renovations, but in recent years, it has been used for some high school and youth basketball games.
“After these renovations are complete, the plan is to use the building for high school and middle school wrestling and volleyball events in the future,” the district posted on Facebook.
A beloved part of Xenia’s past, Benner Field House is a nostalgic and architectural treasure for basketball and history enthusiasts alike.