Hawkes Field House Magic

Four Hours on a Busy Winter Afternoon

Pete Koster ('22), Orbit Contributor

2:57 – The setting sun casts huge shadows across the empty foyer of the Walker E. Hawkes Field House. You can feel the end-of-day anticipation building as the physical education class on the court cleans up the pickleball equipment, and the health classes finish up their lessons. The fitness center and Thomas C. Darrin Wrestling Room are still locked up from the weekend, waiting to be used. The Hall of Fame and team championship banners serve as a reminder of the past successes of the athletic program.

I wanted to capture a typical afternoon in the life of the field house…

It was an average day for the RMHS field house in the winter season. The field house was getting a lot of use today, starting the day at 8:30 AM with the first PE class, and set to end around 9:00 PM with the youth wrestling group. I wanted to capture a typical afternoon in the life of the field house, so I went and observed the field house during those busy hours on Monday, December 13.

3:02 – The end-of-day bell rings. Instantly a flood of students flows from the bridge, eager to leave school. Some go straight outside to their waiting rides, some stay in the foyer talking with friends, and some head right into the gym, anticipating an afterschool pickup game of basketball. Others head for the athletic locker rooms to put their equipment away.

Pete Koster (’22)

3:13 – The sounds of dribbles and squeaks of sneakers fill the foyer, but it is empty once again. Inside on the courts, some students have pulled out basketballs and started to shoot around, or play each other one on one. The desolate foyer longs for the activity that it saw just moments before.

3:26 – “This is the stuff, right?  This is the beginning. You guys who ran on Saturday, you have a future. Okay? So, take what you did on Saturday and build on that.” The boys track team’s assistant coach Bill Wallace gives a post-meet pep talk to the distance runners, before they start warming up for their run. The wrestling team starts to pile into the wrestling room for practice, after their coach comes and opens the door. The students who were shooting basketballs get kicked off of the court in anticipation of the girls basketball team practice.

3:38 – Loud rock music echoes in the upper hallway of the field house, as the workouts in the fitness center are in full swing. Backpacks belonging to the boys distance runners litter the foyer, as they left for their two mile loop around Birch Meadow. Two students sneak into the gym and start playing Horse on the sidecourt, next to the girls basketball team.

This is the stuff, right?  This is the beginning.

— Coach Wallace

3:56 – “You might have a lane to go, but you can’t get into the habit of catching it, and going.” The girls basketball coach gives advice to the team after they finish up a drill focused on rebounding missed shots. Ms. Hopkinson, a health teacher, locks up the two health classrooms for the day.

4:28 – The music coming from the fitness center stops as students finish wiping down their equipment. Mr. Mahoney turns the lights off and shuts the door. Some students go to the sidecourt, joining their friends playing Horse, starting to play  a two on two.

4:50 – The stench of sweaty teenage boys fills the foyer as the boys distance runners trickle in after their run. They slowly sit down in a circle and start the post-run stretching routine. The seniors in the group talk about their calculus homework, while the underclassmen talk about the lunch served in the cafe that day.

Audrey Gentile (’22)

5:03 – “To me, that means you’re tightening up, tightening up, tightening up. So even when you’re standing there, you need to be moving, you need to be stretching.” Coach Madden, the girls track coach, gives some words of wisdom to the team in the foyer, after their first meet last week. The foyer is calm as the runners do their cool down routine, but inside the gym is chaos. The boys basketball team watches the girls team end-of-practice scrimmage, waiting for the court to free up for their own practice. The rest of the boys track team shows up and waits for track practice to start, chatting with friends, or playing Off the Wall with a tennis ball. 

5:22 – “One. DOWN. Two. DOWN. Three. DOWN…” Senior Connor Patterson leads the boys track team in the pre-practice push-ups. The track team stretches up on the side court, but leaves the track open, to give the basketball teams and the girls track team the room they need to practice. Coach Price, the boys track coach, says while he wishes the track team had the field house alone, sharing practice space with different teams leads to more RMHS pride. “The boys and girls have a great camaraderie, so there is a really great respect for each other, and the programs.”

The seniors in the group talk about their calculus homework…

5:44 – All the thuds of dribbles, squeeks of sneakers, and yells across the track stop for a moment. The silence is filled with the sounds of dozens of students catching their breath. Panting is the only thing audible, besides some quiet talking for 30 seconds. The hard work and motivation in the field house is palpable as the teams relax for a brief moment.

Pete Koster (’22)

6:17 – “Woooohhhh! Goo Liam!” Members of the girls track team yell down at the boys high jumpers as they wait for the fitness center to be unlocked. On the other side of the gym, the boys hurdlers are practicing jumping farther than necessary, jumping over multiple hurdles at once. The distance runners for the girls track team are on the track outside at Hollingsworth Field, preparing for their upcoming meet.

6:57 – “Yeah yeah, that’s good. You just need to extend a little more.” Patterson gives advice to an underclassman on their shot put form, before he does his last throw of the night. The boys throwers, along with the boys and girls high jumpers, are the last RMHS-based athletes in the field house. But, the field house isn’t silent yet. Youth wrestling is still in full swing, getting ready for a new age group to practice at 7:00.

“When it’s quiet, it’s not the same; it needs that noise.

— Ms. Hopkinson

The field house is almost never silent.

Ms. Hopkinson, volleyball coach and health teacher, says, between coaching and teaching, she almost never leaves the field house. She thinks that the constant commotion in the field house gives it the charm that she loves. “When it’s quiet, it’s not the same; it needs that noise.”

That noise doesn’t only come from RMHS athletes. Throughout the year, the Walter E. Hawkes Field House hosts many community events. From youth Sunday basketball leagues, to karate black belt tests, to town voting, to high school robotics competitions, to Christmas church services, the field house sees and hears it all.

The sheer range of uses makes the space a unique focal point of both RMHS and the Reading community at large. I thought my Monday afternoon might help me discover the magic of the field house, but I realize that because the space is ready to house almost any activity, the magic comes from the community itself. Next time you are in a cheering basketball audience, or gym class, or taking a quiet walk over the bridge, check out the welcoming expanse of the Walter E. Hawkes Field House, ready to serve as host for the next community event.