Football may rule the high school sports scene in northwest Georgia, but when it comes to facilities, the basketball programs may be on top.
Three new gymnasiums have opened this season, including two this past week, and in each case the state-of-the-art buildings have been met with terrific reviews, as much for what they mean to the student bodies as to their appearances.
The multipurpose gym at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe hosted its first basketball game in December. The building also has a college-like weight room, a room dedicated to the cheerleaders, several classrooms and athletic staff offices.
"It's been a great addition to our campus across the spectrum," LFO athletic director Todd Windham said. "The kids have been enthusiastic about the building from the beginning. It was like a Christmas present for them to unwrap when school started, and no one's been disappointed after it was opened."
Christmas came a little later for Calhoun and Trion, but each of those schools is now enjoying its new gift from the taxpayers. Calhoun's gym, which seats more than 2,000 spectators, is the latest part of a massive project started two years ago to tear down and rebuild the high school and middle school. The high school gym was the first building to be demolished, meaning the basketball programs have been sharing the middle school gym.
"To have a home again is a wonderful experience for our kids after two years," said Calhoun girls' coach Jerry Pruett, whose team has played 15 of its 18 games on the road. "It was done right and the thing that stands out to me is the amount of space we now have. With the bleachers pushed in we have the width for three court lengths. Three teams can be running full-court drills at the same time, whereas before all of us were sharing two goals."
The building also has a number of nice amenities, including a team room complete with a big-screen television where the team can watch game video, a training room, wrestling and cheerleading rooms and an auxiliary gym where classes are held. There are 14 total basketball goals that can be used at one time.
And there's more. In the coming months the aquatics center will be completed, and when the entire project is finished there will be a new track and football practice facility adjacent to the school buildings.
"The gym is a really nice facility and we're extremely excited that it's open," Calhoun athletic director and football coach Hal Lamb said. "This has been quite the project, and we're still not finished, but it's nice to be in it."
Lanny Thomas can echo those thoughts. The Trion boys' coach helped christen the school's 1,600-seat gym last Friday and already is gushing over what it does for the student body.
"It's a wonderful thing," he said. "This is a K-through-12 school and the middle school did not have a gym, so all the classes and practices were held in the high school gym. It was a bad situation. It was not uncommon for kids to be changing in the restrooms, and often there was just no room to practice."
The gym features an open look with windows at the top and a college-like drop-down scoreboard as its centerpiece. It, like Calhoun's, also has a 94-foot court, 10 feet longer than the older ones. Thomas, whose son Isaac is a senior getting college recruiting looks, said his school's gym is unique.
"It has a big-time feel that you just don't get in single-A gyms," he said. "My son and I have visited several colleges and this gym is a lot better than most we've visited."
In each case the coaches and administrations credit their school boards and communities for making the projects happen.
"I know that in Catoosa County the athletic facilities are second to none," LFO's Windham said. "And the key there is having that ESPLOST money to do these types of projects, which goes back to the taxpayers and the importance education plays in our communities."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...