Alumni gawk at Waukee’s high-tech fieldhouse in a “Back to the Future” flashback.
“I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I wish I was in high school now,’ ” activities director Jim Duea said.
This is not your old gym with creaky floorboards, low ceilings and a scoreboard with a few burned-out bulbs. It’s a showplace with bells and whistles that rank the fieldhouse among the elite indoor facilities in the state and the centerpiece of a school construction and renovation project that had a price tag of nearly $15 million.
“It honestly feels like we’re playing in a college gym,” said Waukee guard Ashley Dalsing, a senior on the girls’ basketball team.
Dalsing said she gets a rush when she walks in the door to the fieldhouse. Part of the thrill is pride in the chance to play on the court.
On one side of the gym is a massive glass wall that lets daylight beam through or switches to a giant panel of lights during basketball games, wrestling meets or concerts.
About 2,500 fans can be seated. They’re treated to a videoboard that shows 15 to 20 instant replays a game, highlight films and commercials. A central scoreboard is hung from the ceiling, channeling Wells Fargo Arena.
“We can do some things that you can’t see in most high schools,” Duea said.
Waukee, one of the state’s fastest-growing school districts, has more than doubled its enrollment in the past decade. It’s now the 11th-largest school in Iowa.
The athletes for this season’s teams are the first to use the venue.
“We’re just really fortunate to be able to play here,” boys’ basketball forward Dan Jacobi said. “It’s fun.”
There’s also a little fear factor for some foes who have never played in such a gym.
“I definitely think they’re shaking a little, they’re in that ‘wow’ state,” Dalsing said
Next fall, the volleyball team will take the stage. A net system will descend from the ceiling and swivel into place.
While Waukee moves forward, the school is looking back, too. Outside the fieldhouse are a slick hall of fame gallery, state championship trophies on display and banners honoring past athletes.
The construction project involved adding an academic wing to the school, 22 classrooms, commons, a lunchroom and media center.
The athletic facilities include a wrestling room with three mats, an 8,000-square-foot multi-purpose room used by everyone from golfers to cheerleaders, activities offices and a fitness room. The teams use new locker rooms and meeting rooms.
Duea said Waukee isn’t boastful about the venue or aiming to flex its muscles in the CIML.
“The fieldhouse should be, first, a sense of pride for athletes in our community,” he said.
Former Ankeny football player Matt Hulbert was among the Hawks of the past who were able to celebrate a state championship by their school this fall.
Hulbert was a Des Moines Sunday Register Elite all-state offensive lineman in 2005. His team reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs during his senior year. The Hawks went 7-3, beating Des Moines Lincoln and falling to West Des Moines Dowling Catholic in the postseason.
A strong and powerful tackle, Hulbert was listed as 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds. He was a three-year letter winner and a team captain. Kansas, Iowa State and Colorado recruited him.
He played at Iowa State for three seasons and finished his career at Western Illinois. He settled in the Cedar Rapids area.
Ankeny won the Class 4-A state title last month. Coach Jerry Pezzetti also served as Ankeny’s head coach during Hulbert’s playing days.
Prep web extras
CATCH THE VIDEO: For a look inside the Waukee fieldhouse, check DesMoinesRegister.com/HSInsider
NIKE REGIONALS: Iowans made an impact in the Nike Heartland regional cross country meet on Nov. 11 at Sioux Falls, S.D.
Stephanie Jenks of Linn-Mar was the top Iowan in the girls’ race. She took third individually, which qualified her for Saturday’s national race, where she finished 41st. Anna Holdiman of Waverly-Shell Rock placed 10th. An Iowa-based team called the Ultimate Warriors finished third in a 29-team field.
Jason Thomas of Dowling Catholic placed 12th in the boys’ race in a field of 32 programs. His team, the Dowling club team, took runner-up honors and advanced to the national meet. The team finished 19th Saturday, and Thomas was 73rd.
Seven states participated in the regional: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
The national meet was held in Portland, Ore.