By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Enid High School hoops will no longer have to feel like the wayward cousin who crashes on your sofa and stays … and stays … and stays.
This past week the Enid Public Schools Board of Education signed off on a $32,000-per-year deal with the city of Enid that will allow the Plainsmen and Pacers to finally have a home and it will be the brand new Enid Event Center located downtown. Construction is expected to be completed this spring.
For the past five years Enid’s cagers have been without a real homecourt since the closing of Mark Price Arena (aka Convention Hall) over compliance issues with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). EHS has pretty much held the distinction of being the only Class 6A school without a true homecourt while they used Northern Oklahoma College Enid’s Mabee Center as their game-day home.
“We’re certainly thankful for NOC for letting us play there, but it is red, and says ‘Jets’ and we’re navy blue,” Pacers head coach Rob Mills told Enid News & Eagle sports reporter Ryan Costello Thursday night at the annual EHS basketball banquet. “I’m excited about it. I don’t know how many other teams get to play in a facility like that.
“We want to feel like we have our own gym, you know? Our house. That’s kind of what we want it to feel like. Hopefully it will give that kind of feel for us next year.”
Plainsmen head coach Ryan Wilkinson expressed similar thoughts Thursday night, telling the News & Eagle “it’s exciting to have a new facility that’s going to be big and right downtown. It’ll centralize everybody and I think we’ll probably have better turnout for the games.”
Mills and Wilkinson should be excited as Enid will go from a nearly nomadic existence to occupying one of the top prep facilities in the state.
According to the Enid Event Center website, when configured for basketball the “state-of-the-art” Event Center will seat 3,400 people and teams and officials will have the use of four locker rooms, official’s rooms as well as “hospitality areas in the connected Convention Hall spaces.”
With all of the additional amenities and the state-of-the-art features, it also means Enid may be able to host some tournaments of its own in addition to having more than a handful of home games as, understandably, EHS has had to work around NOC Enid’s basketball needs when it came to scheduling games at the Mabee Center. Enid had only seven home games last season among the 25 or so games each squad played, including on a couple of occasions going several weeks between home games.
Some may scoff or question the $32,000-per-year cost as being a bit high for a seven-game schedule (that would break down to over $4,500 per game), but it would not be inconceivable to see Enid potentially double its home slate with an Enid-based tournament included, significantly knocking down the per-game cost.
Certainly, as the coaches have expressed, there’s nothing like having a true homecourt feel with school colors and EHS symbolism throughout, and it would be a fresh start of sorts for the teams.
“I think the kids are excited to kind of start a new tradition in a new place to play,” Wilkinson said. “Hopefully we can get a little homecourt advantage out of it. It’s a bigger venue, and if we have the opportunity to get some practices and stuff in there, it’s hard to go into bigger venues and shoot well; so hopefully we’ll have some comfort in there.”
Of course it’s hard to quantify in strict numbers the impact having its own homecourt would have had on the won-loss records of the teams. The Pacers had a successful season, going 17-6 before a three-game losing streak ended their season with a first-round playoff loss.
The Plainsmen likewise went out in the first round of the playoffs. But if the team had not been forced to do more travel than most teams in the state, who is to say it could not have made a difference of a couple of games here and there?
And as the coaches have pointed out, an enthusiastic, boisterous homecourt would certainly give the EHS teams an advantage. The current setup has more of a neutral court feel.
Enid deserves to have its own home and while the downtown Renaissance Project (of which the Event Center is a main component) has had its detractors, now that it is nearly completed, the community should not hesitate to coalesce behind it and give its enthusiastic support to the new home of the Plainsmen and the Pacers.
After five years as road warriors, it’s going to be nice for the young athletes to finally come home to their own house.
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at email@example.com.