Jeff Cali Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Folks in the Latta community or those connected in any way with the school’s basketball programs should be proud. Very proud.
Latta athletic director Terry Painter took chief photographer Richard R. Barron and this sports guy on a grand tour of the brand-spanking new Latta gymnasium Thursday afternoon.
Wow. That place certainly has the wow factor.
The state-of-the-art facility (with a price tag of over $5 million) that Latta basketball players will soon be able to call home is nothing short of magnificent.
It’s not the biggest gym in the state, but it’s perfect for Latta. It seats around 1,500, but Painter assures me that 2,000 screaming fans could squeeze inside if needed.
The shiny Canadian wood floor immediately sticks out. Very impressive looking.
The gym has a huge drop-down scoreboard hanging high above that glitzy new floor, complete with video capabilities.
The guest and home locker rooms are first class. There will be a weight room that will be second to none. Heck, they even remembered the cheerleaders, who have their own locker room. And I can’t forget the “hospitality room”, where you may find this guy from time to time on game night. (I suggested that room be named after a certain Ada News sports editor, but that idea wasn’t received well.)
It’s got everything one could dream of in a gym.
The layout is similar to Ada High’s Cougar Activity Center, except that fans enter on the top level. The upstairs lobby houses the concession stand and will have around a dozen bar stools so fans can enjoy their nachos while watching games from above.
There is a student section on the far end that will seat around 500 Latta crazies.
There will be two additional scoreboards at both ends of the gym to accompany Latta’s version of the Jumbotron.
I can’t tell you how many times former Latta players have told me how rough the old gym was on their bodies.
And when a rival like Byng came to town, many fans couldn’t fit. On Latta night at Byng’s Bill Koller Field House, one could expect close to 2,000 fans. In Latta’s old gym, 600 people would be packed in uncomfortably like sardines.
I’m very excited for this year’s crop of Latta players and future Panthers and Lady Panthers. Their new home will be among the best around, and I’d wager to say one of the best in Class 2A.
Painter said he and a group of Latta dignitaries took a close look at around 12 of the best and brightest new gyms in the state and took a little or a lot from each one to create their new gym. Each of those pieces created a building that everyone is proud of.
Latta should be a cinch to start hosting playoff games.
Painter said if everything goes according to plan, this year’s teams should be able to begin workouts in the new gym the week of Jan. 13. Panther players hoping to make the first free throw or the first 3-pointer in the new facility need not worry about that. Painter said he already made the first triple in the gym and the first free throw, although he went just 1-for-32. So mark that down in your history books.
It’s only fitting that the first home game in the new Latta palace — errr, gym — will be Tuesday, Jan. 21, against Byng. It will be exciting to see that place full on the first game night. So mark your calendars now. You won’t want to miss it.
For those who won’t get to see it before that first game, just be ready. You’ll surely be wowed.
Latta boys coach Donnie Husband was also wowed by his soon-to-be new home away from home.
“It’s unbelievable. The powers that be did a wonderful job of putting it all together. It’s exciting to think we’re going to be playing in it pretty soon,” he said.
Husband can’t wait for his Panther team to be able to practice on the new gym floor for the first time. His players can’t either.
“They’re really excited about it. A lot of them haven’t seen it that much. They haven’t had much access to it,” he said. “We’ve taken them up a time or two, but a lot of them haven’t seen it much lately. They’re really going to be proud of it. I’m glad our seniors are going to get to play in it because they’ve meant so much to our program.”
The new Latta Panther Fieldhouse has everything a coach would want in a gym.
“It’s a really, really, impressive facility," Husband said. "There’s no doubt about it. There’s nothing there that you lack for — from the weight room, to training rooms, goals to shoot on, convenience for spectators — there is nothing that it does not have."
The new gym will give Latta the opportunity to host playoff games. There will be plenty of practice space on campus now. It will be a beacon that shines brightly for the Latta basketball program.
“I think it adds even more pride, if that’s possible, for our school. You have a facility that matches your kids' work ethic and the type of great kids we have. There are so many positives to it in all kinds of ways,” Husband said.
Then there’s that season opener Jan. 21 against local rival Byng. That should guarantee a packed house.
“I think there will be a lot of people in it that are going to want to see it,” Husband said. “There’s nobody I’d look more forward to playing in it than (Byng boys coach Trent Miller) and the kids from Byng.
"I know they’ll battle, and we’ll battle. They’ll try to give us an ‘L’ for the first game in it, and we’ll try to get a ‘W’ for the first game in it. It should be a lot of fun. I think it’s probably fitting that you’re playing Byng for the first game.”