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South Central High School unveils renovated fitness center

UNION MILLS -- Long gone is the time of dark, drab and dreary weight rooms.

"In the old days, you'd just need something heavy to pick up. If you didn't have 50-pound dumbbells, you found 50-pound rocks," South Central football coach Buzz Schoff said. "The old weight room, you could get work done in it, but you had to be really motivated to get anything accomplished. That doesn't motivate kids anymore. Kids want flashy. Everything has to look nice."

South Central has that now, with the recent completion of its fitness center, made possible through a grant of nearly $100,000 from the Health Care Foundation of La Porte.

"When Buzz sent me the original picture, I was like, man, I forgot how bad it was," Athletics Director John Haggard said. "It had blue mats on the wall. The floor was bad. Ceiling tiles were missing. Our only cardio equipment was an old stationary bike. We used to have the old iron weights. (The foundation was) really generous to us. We're trying to take advantage of what they gave us the best we can, and I think we did. Now we're finally able to do everything. It just gives our athletes every opportunity to be where they need to be, physically. We don't have any excuses that we can't get something done."

Pictures show an after and before look at South Central High School's weight room. Additionally, there is a cardio room and a room for cheerleader/dance team practices and exercise class. The total fitness center upgrade, which cost nearly $100,000, was funded almost entirely by the Health Care Foundation of La Porte. (Photos provided)

When Haggard became A.D. last summer, he and Schoff walked through the area with Superintendent Dr. Theodore Stevens and discussed what they wanted to do to upgrade it. One smaller room, where all of the weight machines were crammed became the cardio center, with the addition of several ellipticals. The larger, main room, originally built years ago for gymnastics and wrestling, previously housed free weights. It now holds all the rubberized dumbbells and machines, including eight workout stations that S.C. purchased from New Prairie a few years ago when it overhauled its facility, and a set-up for kick boxing.

"For a long time, there were only two racks. There was a lot of empty space," Haggard said. "You can do the whole workout on one station. It's got the same weights, bar, bench, platform. There's no wasting time."

That was the main issue as athletes had to stand around, waiting for machines to become available.

"We can set up a regimen, we don't have to wait for anybody," girls basketball coach Wes Bucher said. "We can get through more in a lesser amount of time. Last year, we got up there and worked as hard as we could, but it was really hard with the limited resources. Having diverse equipment we didn't have in the past, it will allow us to do a lot more. It's going to open up a lot of opportunities for us during the season. I really look forward to getting them up there and pushing them as hard as possible. I know they're excited to get up there, knowing what's up there. They like to set goals. I remember Delanie (Gale) doing the leg press and everyone was trying to replicate that. They're just naturally competitive athletes."

Now, Schoff said, S.C. has more weight racks than La Porte, and no more spacing issues, an even greater issue in the COVID-10 era.

"The problem was just not having enough of everything," he said. "Getting kids to work out was really hard. They made excuse for why they didn't want to come or why they weren't going to be there. Now there's not an excuse. You basically have everything you need in a high school weight room to be successful. There's no reason not to be stronger from year to year."

What once served as a storage room is now used by the cheerleaders and dance teams, who previously had to practice their routines in the cafeteria and hallways.

A large portion of the project cost was re-doing the rubber floors. The walls were painted white with S.C. logos for all sports, bought from Fathead, adorning the walls. New lights were installed and the construction class replaced the bad tiling. The three rooms include four 65-inch TVs and a new sound system to blast out the music.

"At least now, they go up there, they have something to be proud of," Schoff said. "I worked out in the old one and I lifted as much as I do in the new one, but I feel a lot better when I'm doing it. It's a great looking place, the kids are excited to be in it, which is not something we're used to. At least early on, they just wanted to see the finished product. Every time we go up there, it seems like there's something new."

The project was originally slated to be completed last November, but fell behind. It then was delayed through the spring as a result of COVID-19, though softball and baseball still managed to get in some training.

"Once the restrictions come off, I think whatever season we're in, they'll all be able to come in at the same time and there won't be fighting for space any more," Haggard said. "We've already noticed kids getting stronger, getting to where they should be at. I see it definitely paying off. Hopefully it will take all the kids to the next level."

New Prairie grad Katlyn Reyes is working as the strength and conditioning trainer for the football team.

"The new weight room makes us more productive," sophomore Phil Pezan said. "I'm extremely pumped to get my pump on."

Senior Lucas Beschinski called the facility '10 times better.'

"We can work out in groups and finish what used to take us 30 minutes in 10 minutes," he said.

Eventually, whenever pandemic limitations are lifted, the rooms will be open to the public, as well as a fitness trail on the campus, as part of a community wellness outreach program. Haggard said that elementary school counselor Lindsey Dieter, a former workout instructor at the YMCA in Mishawaka, will teach exercise classes.

"Sooner or later, when it gets back to normal, they'll be able to come here," Haggard said. "They won't have to drive to Michigan City, La Porte or Valpo any more."

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