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Corn Palace is unique place to watch high school basketball games


One of the most unique places in the nation to watch a high school basketball game is “The World’s Only Corn Palace” located in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Originally built in 1892, the Corn Palace has been home to numerous high school sporting events, including Mitchell High School boys and girls basketball games, South Dakota High School Activities Association state basketball tournaments and countless basketball games and tournaments featuring area high school teams.

Dominating a full city block, the large brick building is decorated with murals both on the exterior and interior walls depicting South Dakota scenes created by more than 275,000 ears of brightly-colored corn cut lengthwise, as well as grains and native grasses. For many years, renowned Native American artist Oscar Howe designed the murals. Its Moorish design features turrets and minarets on the roof.

Every year, the exterior murals are replaced with scenes depicting a new theme. The 2012 theme reads like a commercial for the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and its member state associations as it is “Saluting Youth Activities.” Among the activities depicted are track, gymnastics, golf, baseball, basketball, cheer, soccer, wrestling, ice hockey, tennis, volleyball and football.

During the entire year, the Corn Palace is a very popular tourist attraction that annually brings more than a half-million visitors to this Midwestern community of 15,254. In the fall, Mitchell holds its annual “Corn Palace Festival,” in which carnival rides line Main Street and national acts perform on the Corn Palace stage. In the 1960s, acts such as The Three Stooges, Lawrence Welk and Andy Williams played the Palace, while in 2011, Tanya Tucker and .38 Special performed.

However, it’s between November and March when things really heat up in the Corn Palace, as that’s when hoops season is underway in Mitchell.

Inside is seating for 3,200 fans ‑ with cushy permanent seats on the west side of the basketball court and bleachers on the other three sides. There’s no such thing as a bad seat in the Palace as everyone has an unobstructed view of the action. The adult fans dominate the west side, while the student bodies of the participating teams generally take the bleachers.

In recent years, the Corn Palace added a high-tech, four-sided scoreboard that hangs from the ceiling. Among its many features is its ability to display video of the game being played.

Perhaps the most consistently successful team to play on the Corn Palace floor is its longest-tenured tenant ‑ the appropriately named Mitchell Kernels boys basketball team. The legendary program has won a state-record 16 state titles, which also ranks eighth in the nation, according to the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book.


Leading the Kernels for the past 39 years has been Gary Munsen, who coached the program to nine of those state titles. Known for his strong emphasis on defense and a constant expectation of 100-percent effort, Munsen has compiled a 634-250 win-loss record at the helm of the boys program. He also formerly coached the girls program, which he led to 230 wins and three state titles.

During his tenure, Munsen has coached numerous all-state players, many of whom went on to great collegiate careers. However, the best player to ever don a Kernels uniform was 6-foot-8, 218-pound guard Mike Miller, a 1998 McDonald’s All-American who averaged 26.6 points and 10.5 rebounds a game as a senior. Miller went on to the University of Florida, where he led the Gators to the National Collegiate Athletic Association national championship game in 2000. The fifth selection in the 2000 National Basketball Association player draft, Miller went on to be chosen both Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year, and has completed 11 seasons in the league.

Over the years, the Corn Palace has proven to be friendly confines for coach Munsen and his Kernels.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a home court advantage there,” Munsen said. “The atmosphere is great and it’s a great place to play. The fans have been very supportive over the years and they really get behind the team.

“I look back at all the years I’ve been coach and I think there was only one time that we didn’t win a district game there to qualify us for the state tournament. We had a run from 1983 to 1987 when we didn’t lose a game in the Corn Palace ‑ we won something like 55 games in a row there during that time.

“We also had several games that were completely sold out, including the Parkston game in 1977, Pine Ridge in 1985, a couple games with Mike Miller, Huron in 2008 and Pierre in 2011. We had to turn away fans in those games due to fire code restrictions.”

In addition to the Mitchell High School basketball teams, other regular winter tenants of the Corn Palace include Mitchell Christian High School and Dakota Wesleyan University. Both of those schools have also enjoyed great basketball success over the years.

During the past two years, the Corn Palace has been home to the Mike Miller Classic, which attracts boys high school basketball teams from both South Dakota and the nation. It is held between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The Corn Palace was also home to professional basketball, as the South Dakota Gold of the International Basketball Association played there during the 2000-01 season. 

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National Federation of State High School Associations
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