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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Refurbished Gym Helping Birds Seek Home Court Edge

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, The Highlands cheerleaders perform at a recent game. Many in the community quickly notice the lighting difference in the refurbished gym.
It does not take one long to notice numerous differences in the renovated Highlands High School Gym once he or she steps inside.

The Highlands basketball teams played there for the first time in early January and the volleyball team will play its first game in the renovated gym in the fall. The volleyball team played most of its home games in the middle school gym while the basketball teams played various places like Thomas More College until the renovated gym opened.

"It's just really nice to be back home," said Matt Haskamp, Highlands Director of Athletics. "The kids have been extremely anxious and excited about getting out here. For everything to come together, it's pretty awesome."

When people walk through the front doors, they notice a huge H to the right with pictures of recent Highlands sports photos. Then the difference in the lighting becomes apparent inside.

"The gym is beautiful," said Jaime Walz-Richey, Highlands Ladybirds basketball head coach. "The lighting is so much better. You walk in and you can't believe how bright it is. There for a while, our gym was dark. It was hard to see. Now it's one of the best. People of all ages can come and they're able to get up and down with ease."

There used to be a balcony on the east end of the gym. But it has been taken out and a huge scoreboard glares out to the left. The sound system has also improved a lot compared to recent years.

"It's awesome. The whole things is completely different," said Mitch Cain, Highlands senior basketball player. "It looks nothing like it did. The bleachers and video board change the whole atmosphere."

The Highlands band finds itself at the same level as the fans, players and coaches. Administrators thought the Highlands O-Zone Student Section would sit in the west end bleachers. But the band has gone there instead and the students remain in the familiar seats on the northeast side.

"It's different not having a band stand up (on the balcony)," said McKenzie Leigh, Highlands senior post. "It's cool the band gets to sit on the same level as us."

Highlands High Principal Brian Robinson listed a couple other accomplishments with the renovated gym. It provides better access to people with physical limitations and new HVAC systems air conditioning allow the gym to be used year-round. The football team used the new locker room facilities in the basement this past fall.

"We feel excited similar to the community," Robinson said. "We've been very, very blessed that we've had such a supportive community throughout this entire process. We have a couple of finishing touches that are going to be fantastic. The most important thing is kids are able to play inside. We have something that our kids will be super proud of."

People notice bricking and asphalt off the right of the gym headed toward the football field. It used to have a sign that listed the football team's state championships. It will become a Walk of Fame this fall.

The Ladybirds basketball team has gone 3-2 in the renovated gym while the Bluebirds have gone 3-5. Both teams have had their struggles this season. But they hope to make it a huge home-court advantage.

"I hope it's a big advantage, but ultimately, it's about the atmosphere inside," said Kevin Listerman, Bluebird Head Coach. "People will be excited to see is in there and see us play. It's our job to make them want to come back. It speaks volumes about our community's commitment to excellence. We now have a top-rate facility that we are all proud of. Our kids recognize and appreciate the sacrifices others have made to make this possible and work to show our appreciation through our efforts on the floor."

The new field house built last year has been a huge help to the teams with inclement weather. But Richey added the gym renovations will also be a huge help to the athletic teams.

"It's great when you have kids growing up at the middle school," Richey said. "They have a nice gym down there. We have a fitness center the girls can use because the boys are using the one in the field house. We have two different weight rooms we can use now."

The next basketball game takes place Friday. The Bluebirds play host to Lloyd Memorial at 7:30 p.m.

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