WAYNESVILLE – A yearlong project at Waynesville High has turned the heads of many, but after months of progress the new athletic complex, a part of a campus overhaul, is finally coming together.
Recently re-elected school board member Dorsey Newcomb said the campus completion project utilized a portion of a $43 million district fund. According to a March 2012 Daily Guide report, the facility cost nearly $20.2 million.
Highlighted by the construction of the multi-million dollar athletic complex, other renovations include an updated baseball diamond and wrestling facility, as well as locker rooms for the use of all Waynesville sports teams.
Josh Scott, the Waynesville school district's athletic director, said the drastic improvements have major impact on not only sports like football and baseball, but for all other school athletics.
"A lot of school districts take care of some of what's considered the marquee sports – baseball, basketball and football," Scott said. "In our district, we've taken a stance to worry about everybody."
In 2008, before the birth of the Waynesville softball program, the school broke ground to create a new, best-in-area softball facility.
"What girls softball program around has its own locker room, concessions stand, restrooms and a field that could be played on by collegiate teams?" Scott asked.
During the fall 2012 softball season, Waynesville finished with its best record since the program's inception at a recorded 10-3 (waynesvilletigerathletics.org), which included second-place finishes in the Ozark Conference and at districts.
Because of the program's recent success, coach Kelly Jackson was selected as the Ozark Conference Coach of the Year, as voted by peers.
Each new area will also be utilized by the school's outdoor sports teams, including the boys and girls soccer, tennis and track teams; the cheerleading squad and the high school marching band.
"A lot of tennis programs have to go to city parks to play," Scott said. "Our tennis program will be able to use those locker rooms and concessions right there."
Waynesville's high school physical education classes will also have access to the field for outdoor learning experiences, including flag football, soccer, and the coveted mile run.
Experiencing the most effects of the overhaul, however, will be the Waynesville football program and coach Rick Vernon, the pilot of a Missouri Class-5 Football State Championship in 2007. Since, however, the football program has been mediocre at-best. The coach said the "state-of-the-art" stadium will certainly improve on-field efficiency.
"It's all going to be right here at the high school where we can get up to practice much quicker and get things done," Vernon said. "The facility is really close to the field; you walk out and you're right on the football field ready to practice, ready to play."
Page 2 of 3 - Football players have also experienced the construction first hand, Vernon said.
"Once [student-athletes] walk in to that facility their eyes just get bright with the way it looks on the inside," Vernon said. "I'm sure all [opponents], when they walk in, are going to say, 'Wow! What a facility.' "
Construction of the newfangled football complex is scheduled to be completed before the start of the 2013 season. It will include two new field houses, one of which includes a weight room and a locker room, the other with a ground-level opponents' area, and an upper locker room, as well as a concessions stand.
Not only will the football program receive a revamped facility, but other programs, including the much-lauded wrestling program headed by coach Jeff Davis will also reap the rewards of an updated facility. Former wrestler and current assistant coach John Kelley said the influence of the impending new wrestling room on current students will be vast, yet tempered.
"It shouldn't affect them at all, really," Kelley said, then added, "They travel year-round to other wrestling rooms to train but having a better facility here should make the kids feel more comfortable."
The wrestling team ranked as high as second in Missouri in 2012 and produced five top-two athletes in different weight classes, among other successful wrestlers. At the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) Wrestling Championships at Columbia, Mo. in mid-February, the Tigers wrestlers placed sixth as a team.
As far as success goes, Kelley said the team "is always looking for more."
"The coaches and kids are always looking for ways to get better and you don't get that without sacrifice and commitment. A lot of our kids realize you have to spend a lot of time on the mat if thy want to be great. Our program has continually gotten better over the years and is one of the top-notch programs in the state," Kelley said.
Scheduled for completion is a renovation of the high school's small gymnasium that will include a locker room with additional showers, a much needed asset considering the team used to share a locker room with visiting girls basketball teams.
"The small gym is going to be raised and a wrestling room will be underneath, which is a definite need for a [wrestling] program that is as successful as our program," Scott said.
Across the city at the Waynesville baseball complex, other renovations were made to improve the quality of play for student-athletes. Coach Scott Turner has been at the helm of the Tigers baseball program since 2009 and has seen an improvement in play from last year in all of three home contests in 2013.
Page 3 of 3 - Before the refurbishing, Turner said ground balls in the infield traveled "sporadic" paths, whereas now the "baseball takes true hops."
Turner also said Tigers baseball also has a sneaky advantage over opponents.
"The thicker grass has slowed the ball traveling through the infield significantly so it has provided us with an advantage," he said. "We are able to beat out more in infield singles because the other team plays normal depth."
Besides a natural grass infield and new backstop, the updated complex offers a concessions area, indoor restrooms, updated batting cages and bullpens. The playing surface was also restructured to provide for maximum rainwater runoff to prevent accumulation.
"I think the district takes pride in making sure we have the best resources and facilities for our students and staff," Turner said. "[The district] saw this as an opportunity to improve one of those facilities."
(*Note: Students at the Waynesville Career Center participated in building the home side dugout at the baseball field.)
Fans received an upgraded experience, too.
"The leveled and concreted walk ways and bleacher area has provided a much more fan-friendly environment with more seating – and we have been filling them up," Turner said.
Fans' benefits are not limited to the baseball diamond, however.
"Fans won't realize how lucky they are with our facilities until they experience these changes," Scott said. "We're a little inconvenienced right now working around the construction, but we're only inconvenienced because of the shape we're about to be in."
"Every time that people come here, they're just amazed at what we have going," Scott said. "They just look and say, 'I wish we had some of these things for our kids.' "
To Scott, one of the best things about the school district is its equal playing ground for all students and sports teams.
"We're not going to just settle," he said. "We're going to make sure that everybody has the best possible environment that we can provide."
The campus completion project will also provide a Ninth Grade Center for incoming freshmen.