A year ago, the Central High School football locker room was an issue that led to upset parents and negative headlines, just as the Bulldogs were making program history on the field.
However, after some elbow grease and contributions from the school district as well as parents and Drury University, the Harrison Stadium facility is something coach Pete Hanson’s program can be proud of as the Bulldogs look to build on its first playoff win since 1986.
“We’ve really noticed a change in our team temperament, and just a pride in wanting to be around here,” Hanson said this week, as he prepared for one of the first practices of the preseason. “Before it wasn’t really a homely environment and wasn’t a place you wanted to hang around.
“The district has really stepped up for us this year, and we’re really thankful.”
Springfield Public Schools has seen to it that the Bulldogs have a proper, and new, locker room, contributing many of the work and materials. SPS paid for ceiling work, a new coating on the floor as well as new lockers for the varsity team.
The room now has a fresh coat of Bulldog black and red on the walls and doors. The district supplied the paint, and the work was finished late last spring by the Central coaches, in addition to players and parents.
The effort came after a News-Leader report last October in which parents of the Central football program expressed frustrations. To them, the 77-year old facility was not given a proper share of a $3.5 million Springfield Public Schools fundraiser that led to the installation of artificial turf at the remaining high school football fields.
Meanwhile, Harrison Stadium — which has had turf since 2005 — received 25-second clocks on the field from the fundraiser.
Passionate parents pointed out leaks in the locker room, old and rusted lockers and showering facilities that mostly were inoperable — not a place fit for a proud football program.
“We were amazed at the amount of help we got,” Hanson said. “It was a last-minute deal and it really came together quite well.”
The new black lockers are hard plastic and give players the ability to sit inside them, as they did Wednesday after the first day of school, while they prepared for practice.
“It looks great,” SPS athletic director Mark Fisher said. “It gives the kids a sense of pride that when they are in the locker room, they have their own place and own personalized locker.”
Added senior Ryan Deckard: “It’s way better. It’s much nicer and it’s good to have. We got a lot of good stuff this year, but we put in a lot of work ourselves.”
The facility is maintained by a partnership of SPS and Drury University, which owns the building and is tasked with taking care of the exterior of the locker room.
The university did just that in the main area, which houses the entire Central varsity team, patching up repairs in the roof to prevent leaks, Fisher said.
Ambrea Grant, a parent of a junior on the Central football team, was among a group of parents that brought the issue to district’s attention.
She said she has been pleased with the district’s impact on the changes, and loaned her time — along with her husband and son — with much of the work inside the facility.
“They (SPS officials) saw that it had been grossly neglected and it needed to be fixed,” Grant said. “They realized and they saw that it had not been taken care of. They did step up and they are fixing things.”
Grant, noting the entire coaching staff was instrumental in the changes, singled out former University of Missouri standout Lorenzo Williams — Central’s defensive coordinator — with his efforts on the project.
Hanson, Fisher and Grant noted the next major step is scheduled work that is forthcoming in the shower area. The junior varsity and freshman teams still use old metal lockers, too.
Grant also said she was impressed with the willingness of players to fix the locker room during weekends in their offseason.
The players, who open play Aug. 30 at home against Republic, hope it translates on the field.
“It seems like we put in the work and paid the price to be great,” senior Jenson Porter said.
“With re-doing the lockers and painting, it now looks like an actual championship locker room.”