Obviously, this isn't your average small-town sweatbox. The old rickety bleachers have been replaced by comfortable upholstered seats. Still, the place packs a mean home court advantage, as the 18 high school state championship banners hanging from the ceiling attest.
"The Mitchell teams are always good, and the fans are not just loud, they're also sophisticated, so you always hate to play there," says Gary Thomas, whose Water-town High boys' team was defeated by Mitchell earlier this season. "As far as I'm concerned, that place is the world's biggest bird feeder."
Visiting players have also remarked that the aroma inside the Corn Palace is a curious blend of silage and sweat. Mike Miller, who is generally regarded as the best high school player ever to have come out of South Dakota, insists that's strictly a myth. "I loved playing in that building, but I can tell you that aside from being made out of corn, it's just like any other gym," says the de facto king of the Corn Palace. "I've played hundreds of games there, starting from when I was in eighth grade, so I know every inch of the place. There are really not any Boston Garden-type leprechauns—not unless you count the birds that are always eating the corn."
Gary Munsen, who coaches both the boys' and the girls' teams at Mitchell Senior High, concurs, saying, "It's a great place to watch a basketball game, especially when it gets loud. And that's a good thing because there's not much else to do in Mitchell besides watch basketball games."
Indeed, on game nights, as lacerating winter winds whip across the prairie, it seems as if the entire town seeks sanctuary in the Corn Palace. The Mitchell boys' team, which has won eight state titles under Munsen, routinely plays to a capacity crowd. But even if you can't get a seat in Mitchell's maize monolith, all is not lost.
You can lend an ear, as it were, and catch the broadcast of the Kernels' game on the local radio station: KORN.