The Barn

Photo Credit: Marty Clemens

The Barn

🕔May 04, 2018

The first thing is the goats and the sheep. They watch us approach, curious. The geese squawk and scatter as we get closer.

It’s a barn, alright. I’m not sure what I expected, but it definitely lives up to its name. Whitewashed stalls, poop in the straw, clucking chickens, animal smell. The current owner loves his animals and tells us the lower level of the barn was raided this year by a bloodthirsty marten. Most of his guinea fowl and dozens of chickens. He’d already trapped and released it after it killed one or two birds, but, he jokes dryly, someone must’ve given it his address.

The first time climbing the ladder is transcendental. Crossing from one world into another. All I can do, as my head pops out at floor level is drop my jaw and then start grinning. It’s a basketball court. In a barn. And it is beautiful.

The story—sometimes thought of as legend—goes like this: courts in town are a commodity and shared between sports; needing a reliable place to practice, a basketball teacher teamed up with a student and avid player whose grandmother owned the barn. They asked; she agreed. It started with just plywood, a backboard, a hoop. The hardwood floor came later, but the soul of the place was already firmly embedded. A few generations of basketball players have since earned their chops playing three-on-three in the Barn, bats swooping through the rafters, a little boombox playing in the corner.

Barn rules are simple: no booze, no smoking, no drugs. Turn the lights off when you leave. Sweep the floor. Always respect the property. Respect, period.

Anyone can go, it’s always open. There’s separate parking and a path to access so you don’t have to bother the owner. 

And when you’re in that space, it’s a bit like being in basketball church. First, you’re quiet, but that doesn’t last long. Because you can’t help yourself—you lace up, grab a ball, and start shooting.

One player who grew up playing in the Barn recalls his first time. He was invited to go by some of the older kids. They could drive; he couldn’t, and he tagged along.

“They blocked literally every single shot I made that night,” he says. “They kicked the living shit out of me.” But he kept going back, and in time got better.

“When you get a game going in there, you realize it’s a really small space. The Barn turned me into a good basketball player.” Eventually he became the older kid, and he took the young guys out to school them. The whole thing was a sort of basketball rite of passage. And that spirit, of it being a place of pure basketball is what the space resonates with now.

In a lot of ways it’s a throwback to a different time. The honour system. Older kids teaching their younger peers. The concept is simple, and good.

“It’s almost impossible to talk about it without being cheesy or using clichés. But it really is magical. There’s no other way to describe it.” He said it, not me. I’m trying to dodge it. He’s right, though. It is magical.

It’s the feeling you get in there. The squeak of sneakers on the polished floor and the swish of the ball in the net. The goats and the geese. The inevitable smiles. All of it. This is the Barn.

—Matt J. Simmons