November 13, 2013

Panthers hope to thrive in new digs

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


With trophy cabinets galore and banners strewn across the gymnasium walls, it's easy to see how much pride there is for Amber-Poccaset basketball.

The lack of those symbols of greatness is perhaps the only thing missing from the brand new gym that will be officially opened on Saturday in a ceremony that starts at 6 p.m. Such achievements can only come in time. For now, the smiles and expressions of astonishment from the boys' basketball players who practiced on the new gym floor for the first time on Wednesday will have to do.

"There's been a lot of good basketball in here," said Superintendent Chad Hance about the old gym. "We're going to try and capture the spirit of the old gym and move that into the new one. Our school is rich in tradition. It means a lot to the people of this community, and it's important that we honor that."

After just over a year of construction, the 1,000-seater gym with modern amenities such as climate control, fold-out seats with backs and an up-to-date sound system is essentially complete. First-year boys' basketball head coach Drew Miller took his team through practice drills there on Wednesday, providing for a first look inside the new locker rooms and the first shots at the brand new baskets.

"It gives them more incentive to play and gets them more excited about playing," Miller said about the initial effects of the new facilities. "I don't know if it'll make us win more games, but it's going to make it a little more comfortable and a little more nice."

For seniors like James Pruner, the new digs show how much the town cares about its basketball and its children.

"We have a tradition of excellence here," Pruner said. "I can't wait to play the first game in here. It'll be something special for the community. It makes me thankful for the administrators for doing this, the community members for approving it, and the construction workers that built it. But, it also motivates me to do my best."

The people of the Am-Po school district voted to approve a bond to build the new gym, among other renovations for the schools, in April 2012. Much of the gym's $4.9 million price tag is being covered by entities relatively new to the area that pay the bulk of its taxes: oil and gas companies.

"It's a big commitment from our patrons, because it passes onto them," Hance said. "Economic growth has helped tremendously. Out of 1,000 people that pay the tax toward it, the top 20 pay for two-thirds of it, and that's oil companies."

The old one was complete in 1957, and while it served its purpose well, and still does — Hance said it would still be used for events like the Grady County-wide tournament that Am-Po is hosting in January — there are issues. 

Since it's under ground, the gym is susceptible to flash flooding in the event that pipes fail to operate properly. There is also one, low-powered heater to keep the place toasty during the cold months when basketball is played. But more importantly, the new gym offers security that the old one did not in the form of a certified safe room that can fit 400 people comfortably. 

During a time when safe rooms and tornado shelters in schools, and how to pay for them, has become a hot topic in Oklahoma politics, Am-Po is ahead of the game.

"That is a great issue that needs to be addressed," Hance said. "It's amazing; when you talk about funding for schools, they want local control. But when they talk about how to educate our kids, they want to tell us what to do."

The hope is that their forward thinking will also lend to top performances on the court so the currently barren walls of the new gym are soon full of banners honoring boys' and girls' teams that went the distance in the region and in state. That effort begins on Tuesday, Nov. 19, when Hance expects to have a full house for the first games of the season.