By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
The wait for a new gymnasium at Hanceville High is finally over.
Two years since the April 27 tornadoes took a toll on Lane Horton Gymnasium and rendered it condemned, the Bulldogs are ready to open the doors of their new $3 million facility, which is bigger and better than ever.
The snazzy one-story structure was built to include a full-length, polished court complete with mascot markings, high-rising stadium seating on the home side, a spacious lobby connected to the concession stand, a fully equipped weight room for all athletic programs to utilize, freshly painted locker rooms for the varsity boys and girls basketball teams, coaches’ offices, a whirlpool room, film rooms, training rooms, physical education locker rooms and showers, storage rooms and a multi-purpose room — and that’s just for starters.
The coolest perk? Prepare for a literal answer. It’s air-conditioned, a feature not found at any other high school in the county, much less too many prep venues across the state.
“The wait was well worth it because everything is as perfect as you can get it. It’s got all the bells and whistles you can have in a gym,” newly minted Hanceville principal Jimmy Collins said. “I’ve been in a lot of basketball gyms, and I’ve never stepped foot into a high school gym as nice as this one. There’s not one similar. It’s got its own unique look to it.”
An open house for the Bulldogs’ new digs will be held on Aug. 4 from noon-2 p.m., giving the public a chance to take a sneak peek at every nook and cranny it can reach. Collins wasn’t shy when extending invitations, either, saying he’d like to see the entire Hanceville community, all of Cullman County and as many coaches as possible on site for the event.
“This is going to be the only time to see every coach’s office, every inch of the gym, every closet, whatever they want to look at,” the administrator said. “Whenever we start having ballgames, those things are going to be closed off. We’d like for everybody in the community to come out and take a look at it.”
Not enticed enough to attend yet? Collins had one more selling point — there will be free food, mostly consisting of hamburgers and hot dogs.
Red carpet guests expected to attend include the gym’s namesake, who will take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, girls basketball state-champion coach Carol Lewey, various politicians, current student-athletes, representatives from Wallace State and Cullman County Schools Superintendent Billy Coleman.
The latter said the completed project has “been a long time coming,” especially after the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance dragged out the process for the better part of a year.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am,” Coleman said. “It’s a beautiful gym. I think Hanceville is going to be so very proud of it. A lot of people are going to say, ‘Well, we need a gym like that,’ but I really think the people in the county are going to be proud and glad for Hanceville.
“The people of Hanceville have been so patient. I think they’re going to see that all that waiting was worth it.”
As a token of appreciation for letting the Bulldogs’ basketball programs call Tom Drake Coliseum home the last two years, Wallace State will have the honor of hosting the first event in the new-and-improved locale. As part of his final camp of the summer, Lions’ men’s basketball coach John Meeks will use the gym for some of the sessions.
“We appreciate what Wallace did. They made a bad situation pretty good,” Hanceville varsity boys basketball coach Daniel Wakefield said. “The storms were something we did not anticipate happening, and they basically said, ‘This is your facility, have it when you need.’ From the president to the athletic director to the basketball coaches — if I start naming names, I’m afraid I’ll leave someone out — just the whole college, we appreciate that.
“As much as they’ve helped us, there is no way we could turn them down. We’re excited to let them use it.”
For the longest time, all Wakefield’s players knew of the gym was what the coach was able to show them with pictures taken during the construction process. On Thursday, though, his varsity, junior varsity and freshman squads finally had the fortune of seeing the real deal for themselves.
“Guys that age probably aren’t the best at showing they’re excited, but you could see it in their body language and their expressions,” Wakefield said. “Obviously I’m happy to be in there, but I’m happy for the players. I’m happy they have a home on campus. Going forward, I’m hoping we all take care of it and that it looks new for a long time.”
As long as Wakefield’s donned the Purple and Gold, he’s tried to teach his student-athletes to be prideful of their school and community. For the coach, that sentiment is more important than ever now that the Bulldogs have a state-of-the-art facility at their disposal.
“It should boost morale for the entire program, school and community to have a place like that,” Wakefield said. “I think there is a new sense of pride at Hanceville, and I think the gym is going to add to that.”
% Airing it out: Some might feel the inclusion of air-conditioning is a luxury or unnecessary expense, but Coleman said it’s actually been added to code in recent years in order for insurance agencies to even consider coverage.
The biggest reason for the change in policy has to do with the contemporary surface of the floor, which requires a temperature-controlled environment.
“They’re going to love that at Hanceville,” Coleman said of the air-conditioning. “And so is everyone else.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.