The Out-of-Door Academy has taken a major step in its quest to bring its athletics and academics programs to a new high.
ODA opened its new Fox Field House at its Uihlein Campus in Lakewood Ranch Jan. 8.
The 12,300-square-foot building can be used for multiple sports, including basketball, volleyball, and indoor tennis. Its main purpose, according to Head of School David Mahler, is to get all team practices done earlier, so students are not forced to do homework late at night.
Previously, ODA was forced to send multiple athletic teams to public facilities in Lakewood Ranch in order to practice at a decent hour. Now, everything can be done on campus, Mahler said, calling the building “an amazing, new addition.”
“We can do anything here,” Mahler said. “Multiple teams, multiple sports. When we have bad weather, our teams will not have to cancel practice. They will have a fantastic indoor facility to use. We can do fundraisers in here. There is really nothing that cannot occur inside the new Fox Field House.”
Mahler said the space, which is painted white and blue with the school’s logos and motto (“Respect. Integrity. Service. Excellence. Responsibility.”) is enough for three volleyball games, or two basketball games, to be played simultaneously. A curtain is able to be dropped at center court from the ceiling, separating the play spaces and making sure no balls from one game fly into another.
Construction of the field house began June 23 and was completed Dec. 23. The building cost $2.5 million, and one million of that came from the Fox family: father Larry, mother Jennifer, ODA eighth-grader, Zach, and ODA fifth-grader, Sami. Larry Fox, who is the chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees, said the donation was the perfect way for the family to give back to the school since it was a need.
“We have to get kids home at a decent hour,” Larry Fox said. “We had kids practicing until 9 p.m. That does not work.
“In basketball, for example, we have seven teams — boys varsity, girls varsity, boys junior varsity, girls junior varsity, girls middle school and three boys middle school teams (“Blue,” “Lightning” and “Thunder”). Those are seven teams we had to get in (to practice) after school, and we had to stagger that, so kids were getting home late. When you look at it like that, we simply needed another facility.”
ODA athletic director Kippie Crouch is a fan of the new building, saying it will help the Thunder with team preparation as well as individual skill development, something that could give the school an advantage.
It is the second large athletics project the school has completed in the last 14 months. The school’s outdoor practice fields, which are used for sports like football, soccer, and lacrosse, were opened Nov. 29, 2017. Those fields, located adjacent to the school's main buildings at 5400 Deer Drive, cost approximately $1 million.
The Fox Field House opening ceremony featured a ribbon-cutting and speeches from Mahler and Larry Fox. Zach Fox made the ceremonial first shot in the building’s history, then the boys and girls basketball teams had a free throw shooting contest, which the boys won. At the end of it all, the whole school got together and launched miniature basketballs, which were previously handed out, into the air.
It was a joyous occasion, and like those basketballs, ODA’s athletic programs seem to be rocketing upward with the opening of Fox Field House.