Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
Former players gather at halftime of the last game played in the Art Hughes Gymnasium at Hillcrest High on Friday night. The gym has been the heart of the Hillcrest school community for 50 years.

MIDVALE – The band played the Hillcrest fight song as the crowd celebrated one last win in a gymnasium that has been the heart of Hillcrest High for 50 years.

Among those enjoying the atmosphere of the Art Hughes Gymnasium one last time were Kaya LePrey and Kathy Howa – both members of the school’s first girls basketball state championship team (1976).

Just as the former boys players gathered at Tuesday’s final boys basketball game, the female alumni gathered Friday for the final game in the gym named for former Hillcrest coach Arthur George Hughes.

While the 2019 Hillcrest girls basketball team fought for its final region victory, LePrey and Howa swapped stories about games they won, jokes they played and drills they dreaded.

“We got to play in this gym when it was a special occasion,” Howa said. “We played in that smaller gym, and it was actually called the girls’ gym.”

They talked about their “awesome” coach and their principal, who rewarded the girls teams the same way he rewarded the boys, even though they played just a few years after women’s sports were sanctioned in Utah high schools.

“He’d take us all to dinner when we won a championship,” LePrey said.

The gymnasium is a nondescript brick structure, although it was state-of-the-art when it became the focal point of extracurricular activities 50 years ago. Even as the final practices and games were being played in the gym, construction on a new facility has begun right next to the gym.

The building was nothing special until the coaches and students created the magic that transformed it. Whether it was a drill team performance, basketball heroics or one of thousands of practices where teenagers learned the value of dedication and hard work, it was the people who gave the gym life.

And that energy passed from one class to another, from one generation to another, until Friday’s game marked the end of an era for the school community.

It was both sad and satisfying.

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The old gym will be torn down, but the most important aspects of it will live on in the stories of those men and women who found challenge, friendship and evolution within those brick walls.

Even as former players gathered to reminisce and reconnect, there was a sense of how history fuels the future, and of how who we were helps us understand who we can become.

For LePrey it isn’t difficult to recall her favorite moments in the gymnasium.

“I think my favorite memory is just playing ball,” she said. “The people I met, the people who are always going to be our friends.”