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New state-of-the-art St. James gymnasium draws rave reviews

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  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • December 22, 2018 - 5:04pm

The scoreboard at the basketball gym at the new St. James High campus in Vacherie allows fans to keep up with individual scoring of players along with other statistical facts.

The recently-concluded Lionel Ezidore Classic at St. James High School in Vacherie was a showcase of local basketball talent with the likes of Hahnville, East St. John, West St. John, Donaldsonville and Brother Martin taking part in the three-day event, along with host St. James.

While playing talent may have been showcased in the event, the star of the show was the venue itself – the basketball gym at the school’s new campus in Vacherie.

The Wildcats’ football team has been playing their games at the stadium on the new campus for a few years but the school itself – along with the other St. James athletic teams – didn’t make the move to the Vacherie location until the start of the current school year.

The Lionel Ezidore Classic, a carryover event from the school’s previous location in St. James, is held annually in honor of the former SJH coach who led the Wildcats to a state title in 2000.

SJH’s new venue drew rave revenues, and a bit of envy, from some of the participating coaches in the event.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” said Hahnville coach Yussef Jasmine. “I’m from Edgard, so I know all about St. James and I sent to West St. John Elementary, so I knew the area and the old school, but when we came into this building, I was like, ‘Man, this is incredible. This is an incredible facility.

“The seating on the side is similar to our gym, but the upper part is really, really nice. I’m making mental notes in my head to bring back to my school.”

“I think it is immaculate,” East St. John coach Charles Julien said. “I’m amazed with the floor. The sound system – the things that attract students to buildings like this.

“We enjoy having the opportunity to play in the tournament. I just think St. James, they are doing great things. I think this building is an example of what St. James stands for in education because they have invested in the children.”

The wow factor even extends to current St. James coach James Smith.

“I call it our little palace,” said Smith. “To embrace it, the effort that went into it – all the taxpayers, all those who made it possible – we are delighted to present this to our kids, our community, and we try to represent St. James with that. Not everybody has the facilities like this. People that come in are just amazed at it.

“Hats off to my principal, Mr. (Michael) Kennedy, who was very instrumental in the layout of it. He was a former coach and this was a result of his vision.”

Kennedy was a high school basketball coach in Ohio and when the time came for a new St. James campus, the principal was a principle part in the layout of the gym.

“The gym I coached in the last 12 years - I was a varsity coach for 22 years - I kind of modeled this after that one. This one is a little bit smaller but the layout is pretty much the same,” said Kennedy. “It was a great facility and I thought that we were building a brand-new school here, it would be on a little smaller scale as far as a gymnasium goes, but I thought the layout was conducive to good basketball, good crowd control, so everything worked out.”

There are amenities galore in the new gym.

“Under the mezzanine, there is a hallway back there where the two home locker rooms are, so it’s kind of out of the way. On the back wall, we have P.E. locker rooms and visiting team locker rooms, so we can kind of keep the teams separated, so that’s kind of nice. In the corner, we have a volleyball locker room that we also can use for visiting teams, too. We have a health classroom at the end of gymnasium. Across the hall, we have a really nice auditorium and we have a big atrium in the front that serves as a lobby for both,” said Kennedy.

The gym features a large scoreboard in which players can be identified by their jersey number, along with statistical items such as points scored and fouls.

“We have the big scoreboard. Kids love to see their number up there and how many points they have,” said Kennedy.

“They can see their names, their points and their production. They didn’t spare anything. We have to make sure we are worthy of what’s been given to us and embrace it so that the whole St. James community can be proud of,” Smith said.

The gym includes an upper level for seating.

“We have a student section, which we think is going to be packed up. That’s where they are going to go,” said Smith. “Everybody will have their little section. The students can have their part, and our parents and visitors will have their own little seating (sections). It’s kind of accommodating to every. Everybody gets a little piece of the pie.”

The upper level is functional beyond seating capacity.

“When those bleachers close, they close back to the front. It kind of makes a wall in the front and you have a lot of space behind it so we have weights up there that the basketball teams can use instead of going into the locker room out at the football facility. It’s also a nice space for the dance team or anybody to work out and it’s almost like separate room, so you can have something else going on while having basketball practice. It’s kind of dual-use thing up there,” Kennedy explained.

Like anything that’s new, it took some time for everyone to get accustomed with the gym.

“When we first got here, we almost had to use GPS to find our way around,” said Smith. “Now that we are in here, you can adjust the goals to different heights, so you don’t have to hang goals for Biddy ball. Finding out all the quirk and we’re learning on the run. It’s brand new to everybody.”

The one quirk so far involved the gym’s scoreboard.

“We have another gym in the middle school, which has the same style of floor but it’s a lot smaller. They actually mixed up the two scoreboards when they put them in. We played a couple of games with the other scoreboard that didn’t belong here and they had to send people back down and we just got those redone. Once we got that done, we had to reprogram everything. That’s the only kind of faux pas we’ve had,” said Kennedy.

A bit of the old has moved to the new venue with banners hanging on the walls of the gym for accomplishments of various teams in different sports through the years, such as the state championship banner of the 2000 squad.

Along with the new gym comes a new set a Wildcats who get a chance to create their own destiny.

“Now, it will be a matter of who will be the first one to hang a banner – to make that mark. To leave that etched in stone for generations to come,” said Smith.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.