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Bulls finally have a place to call home

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published January 9, 2007


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WESLEY CHAPEL - Welcome to Wiregrass Ranch's new basketball gym, where the motto is: If our halfcourt trap doesn't get you, the paint fumes will.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the newest girls basketball team in Pasco County finally gets to play a game at home after weeks of pretending to be the home team at other gyms.

"It turned out pretty good," said sophomore Myia Otkins, looking around. "Definitely better than before."

Before included stops at Wesley Chapel and Weightman Middle School for "home" games. Coach Greg Finkel said both schools were great hosts, but that's just the point.

Now he can host. Check out his new place: Lights glimmering off the new wood floor, the sleek and barren gray walls, the perfect rims and backboards and the never-sat-in burgundy bleachers. Not a scratch in the place, no gum underneath the seats, no scuff marks on the court.

"It's pretty neat," Finkel said, though truth be told the sign out front asking that you take your shoes off before entering is a bit much. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Finkel laying plastic over the bleachers before the fans start arriving, just like Grandma used to.

Football coach Ricky Thomas stopped by Monday and offered a tour while the Bulls practiced. The locker rooms? Majestic. The weight room? Huge. The trainer's room? Let's just say the ice machine and refrigerator are nice touches.

Soon the sod will go down on the football field, and the football team's fieldhouse will be complete. I thought I saw a tear roll down Thomas' cheek when he described it all.

"Everybody loves a new school, all the new stuff," Thomas said. "It just makes everything so ...different."

But ladies first. If anyone deserves a sparkly new gym, it's the Bulls, if only for the reason they have had to drive to Umatilla and Mount Dora for district games.

That they get the first game is a stroke of luck, said Finkel. It just so happens the gym is finally complete and his team is next on the sports schedule.

"It definitely makes tonight's game more exciting," sharpshooting freshman Regan Knapik said. "The other places, even though we were the home team, never really felt like home."

Knapik gave the new joint her stamp of approval seven straight times during drills Monday, sinking 3-pointers until Finkel, tired of pleading with his defense to stop her, did so himself.

"Save some of those for tomorrow night," he said.

On Saturday, before the place was completely done, the Bulls held their first practice. Knapik didn't shoot nearly as well that day, something about her hard hat slipping over her eyes and sawdust getting in her eyes.

On the eve of the game, though, the place looked ready, as workers carted off some refuse from the lobby and the smell of paint ...well, workers carted of refuse from the lobby.

Today, there will even be running water, as tests are completed, a fact Finkel almost forgot as he sent the Bulls off for a water break.

"Whoa! No water!" he shouted, remembering the warning sign taped to every faucet.

He needn't have worried.

"It is kind of nasty," Otkins said, the only bad thing she could say about the new place.

There will be raffles tonight, and half-court shots to win a television, and hopefully, Finkel said, lots and lots of people.

Girls basketball isn't the greatest draw in Pasco County, but who isn't a sucker for a good housewarming party?

"I can't wait," Finkel said.

Just remember to take your shoes off before going in.

John C. Cotey can be reached at 727-869-6261 or cotey@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 9, 2007, 07:44:26]


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