BY DEAN HOCKNEY
Updated December 11, 2012
KOKOMO, Ind. – Home of the Cougars! Since the inception of the IU Kokomo athletics program in 2011, those words have not had much meaning. But if all goes as planned, that could soon change. As first reported by the Sports Journal of Central Indiana, Kokomo-Center Schools, the City of Kokomo and Indiana University Kokomo are very close to reaching an agreement to transform the dormant swimming pool at Memorial Gymnasium into a small gymnasium that would serve as the new home of Cougar athletics.
“This is huge for our program,” said IU Kokomo men’s basketball head coach Jace Thompson. “We get a home court that we can go in and practice on, and give us practice time flexibility. It will give (the players) a feel of something that is their own. It is a home of the Cougars.”
The new renovation calls for the existing pool – which is currently empty – to be filled with cement. A combination college length basketball floor/volleyball court will then be placed over the old pool. Portable goals will be used for basketball and bleachers will be added that will seat slightly less than 500 fans. In addition, the locker rooms will be renovated and the walls will be painted in IU Kokomo colors – giving the team its first real home after playing and practicing at Northwestern, Western, Kokomo, Maple Crest, the YMCA and a local church.
“The proposed project is exciting and there are still a few steps left to bring it to fruition,” said Kokomo-Center Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Hauswald. “The city has committed half of the funds, and they still have to approve that. And then IUK has to provide the remaining funds through a long-term facility use agreement, which we believe will be 10 years. And then our school board will accept all of that as a package and agree to renovate the Memorial Gym swimming pool and turn it into the new home for IUK athletics. I don’t see any reason why this won’t work out in the end.”
The Cougars coach said that since the team is currently practicing on a high school sized court, being able to practice on a regulation college court will have a huge preparation advantage.
“We are going to be able to assimilate the games a little better,” said Thompson. “Instead of adding on to our runs, we can just practice on a normal sized court and the guys will get the spacing better. It will help us flow in away games a little better.”
Currently, the Cougars play volleyball games at Maple Crest Middle School, basketball games at Kokomo High School and practice at a local church. Hauswald said with the growth of middle school athletics, school facility use is tight.
“With Kokomo-Center adding sixth grade basketball and the growth of athletics at the middle level, gym space is at a premium,” he said. “This will also free up some space for some of our community groups who have always depended upon our facilities.”
Hauswald also noted the city is happy because it plays into Mayor Greg Goodnight’s plans for revitalizing downtown Kokomo.
“For the city, it continues the revitalization of downtown Kokomo,” said Hauswald.
“It will bring more people downtown to support local businesses. The city will add more historical lighting on Superior Street after they added new lighting and green spaces in front of the Memorial Gym. I am glad that Kokomo-Center had the capacity to partner with IU Kokomo. We are glad we could help find a home for the Cougars.”
Thompson said that he can use the new Cougar athletic facility as a recruiting tool.
“A gym is not necessarily the number one thing on a kids list, but not having a home court does hurt,” he said. “When it is your own and the Cougar is on the wall and the floor is painted in the school colors – you can take a recruit and simply show them your place. We can’t do that now. It will be a huge addition to our recruiting process.”
While not an ideal situation (the first IUK basketball game of the season had more than 500 fans), the structure will give the Cougars a permanent practice facility. In addition, the possibility exists for the Cougars to play some games in Memorial Gymnasium if crowds become too big for the new gym.
“I think it is a win-win-win – a win for the city, a win for IU Kokomo and a win for the schools,” said Hauswald. “(The swimming pool) has been mothballed for quite some time, so this will be nice for the college and good for the schools.”
Thompson added that it is rare for so many entities to form an alliance like this.
“Not many schools are in a situation where the city schools, the mayor of the city, and the university work together like we are working together right now,” said Thompson. “It is huge that these three entities want to work together and move forward in a positive way. We are very fortunate we are in this situation and we thank Dr. Hauswald and Kokomo-Center Schools and Mayor Goodnight and the city. This will be a great thing for the entire community, not just IUK.”
If all goes as planned, the new gym will be ready for use by the time the Lady Cougars set up the nets for a new volleyball season in the fall of 2013. And by this time next year, the roar of the Cougars will be heard in the former home of the Kokomo Katfish.