CRESTVIEW — In an era when competition has never been fiercer in high school sports, sometimes, the quality of facilities can make the difference between winning and losing.
From well maintained fields and gyms to weight rooms and locker rooms, Crestview High School and Baker and Laurel Hill schools’ coaching staffs frequently improve what they have to make the experience more enjoyable for players and fans.
Crestview High School
So far, Crestview athletic director and head football coach Tim Hatten, who was hired last month, says he’s impressed with the Bulldogs’ venues.
Hatten — who came to Crestview from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi and, prior to that, was Haines City’s head football coach — has visited numerous high school campuses in Mississippi and across Florida, and he said Crestview's facilities are among the best he's seen.
"We probably had 22 high schools in our recruiting district at Pearl River, and those schools ranged from 1A high schools to 6A high schools, with the top-end enrollment being right at 2,000 students," he said. "Certainly, we would be in the top 5 percent in the state, from what I've seen in recruiting over the last 11 years. And in my 14 years in Polk County, I would say our facilities are as good (as) or better than any of the 20-something schools in Polk County."
The Bulldog’s 3,400-square-foot weight room is the football facility’s highlight, Hatten said. He praised Crestview baseball coach Tim Gillis and the Crestview softball program for their ball park maintenance.
However, he said, there is always room for improvement.
"Everyone that is going to come to your facility is going to have an idea here and there about how you can spruce it up," he said. "A little bit of labor here and there and we will make it even better."
As a 6A school, Crestview has all the facilities necessary, but that's not the case for other north county schools.
Baker athletic director and head football coach Matt Brunson is quick to express his gratitude for the Gators’ facilities. Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium — which seats between 2,000 and 2,500 fans — is the perfect size for a 1A school and more than serves its purpose.
Brunson praised coaches and school maintenance staffers for the facilities’ upkeep. However, he pointed out that Baker has obstacles that other area schools lack. "At Baker, we have a very unique situation because we are a K-12 (school)," he said. We run a full middle school program with all of our middle school teams playing athletics. We have a full JV program and a full varsity program” of basketball, volleyball, football, soccer and track. "It handicaps us during, say, basketball season with only one gymnasium and we are splitting up between our middle school teams, boys and girls, our JV teams, boys and girls, and our varsity teams, boys and girls."
Additionally, the school lacks a baseball field, but uses the community baseball and softball complex. "The baseball field down there is very nice," Brunson said. “The thing ... is, it's not on campus so our kids can't use it during the school day. And we don't have any dressing facilities down there.”
The school mostly needs dressing rooms for athletes and bathrooms for fans, he said. Additionally, space in the 1,400-square-foot field house and weight room is getting tight, he said. "We definitely need more square footage in our weight room.” Three-thousand square feet would be adequate.
Still, he said, "as far as the niceness of our facilities and the upkeep job our coaches do, I would grade them high: an A" he said. "But as far as the feasibility and the square footage of our weight room facility and the lack of gym space for our teams, I'd grade it very low, a D maybe.And as far as our baseball field being displaced down the road and our guys not being able to walk out back and having a practice facility and a dressing room facility, I'd grade that very low. But as far as us coaches making it work with what we've got and the upkeep of the facilities and it being what it is, I think it's fine. So overall it would be a C plus or B minus.”
LaurelHill School, Okaloosa County’s smallest public school with a high school athletic program, only fields teams in volleyball, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball, but facility maintenance is still a concern.
The school takes pride in and frequently upgrades the facilities, Laurel Hill athletic director and head boys basketball coach Kent Zessin said. "Any time we are able to get funding for athletic facilities, it is greatly appreciated, and we try to stretch that money as far as we possibly can," he said. "We have done some ... renovation or remodeling to our three athletic facilities over the last 10 years, starting with the softball field, adding lights, and (as) recently as last year, adding two dugouts to that facility.
"As far as the baseball facility, it has been ... maybe eight years now that a new backstop was put in, a three-foot wall with the netting. Also, there was a renovation of the dugout, a new scoreboard, infield grass and irrigation system that brought that facility up to par with everyone in the county."
The Hoboes’ gym that is home to the volley and basketball teams has received improvements in the last five years as the school made the gym handicap accessible, stripped and refinished the court and upgraded restroom facilities. Gym renovations resulted in 150 fewer seats then the initial 750 capacity, but it was necessary for the gym to be handicap accessible.
Going forward, Zessin would like to see the locker rooms — unchanged since the gym was built in 1969 — get a makeover. "The wish list would be to actually add dressing room facilities for visiting teams, both boys and girls as well as home team, so we would have four dressing rooms," he said. "That way, we could kind of take care of our own and the visitors when they come here. They would have something nice also and the physical education classes could use that ... It would take some planning, but it could be done."
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.