Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The Faith Lutheran High School basketball team used to play home games in a gymnasium so small that players on the bench had to sit on a stage overlooking the court.
About 60 fans could attend games in the late 1990s, where the Crusaders' campus was an old LDS church.
“We coached from that stage, too. It was a shoe-box,” said Bret Walter, Faith Lutheran’s coach since 1997.
Times have sure changed.
Last week, Faith Lutheran broke ground on the Crusader Competition Center, a $6.5 million complex that is expected to be ready in about a year. It includes a 1,150-seat gymnasium, 4,000-square-foot weight room, new locker rooms, coaching offices and bigger concession stands. The old facility will become an auxiliary gym, giving the private school a two-court setup common at most schools in the area.
Faith Lutheran is a middle school and high school with 16 athletic teams — volleyball and basketball — jockeying for space in one gym. Some teams practice before school at 6 a.m.; others call the outdoor tennis courts home, and some teams don’t leave campus until 9 p.m. Some teams even practice in the cafeteria.
But it sure beats that old Robin Street location, which is a hop, skip and jump away from the current Hualapai Way campus in Summerlin. They moved to the Hualapai campus in 2000.
Walter knew breaking ground last week signaled a milestone for the basketball program and the school. They’d have more space to accommodate current students and also attract more families to their community.
But he’ll never forgot his inaugural season at the school, knowing the adversity of playing in that shoe box helped fuel the drive to get better.
The Crusaders competed in the state’s old 1A classification in 1997-98 against schools with enrollments of less than 100 students, regularly taking long bus rides to rural Nevada towns for games. Most nights, it wasn’t pretty.
“That first year there were five teams in the league and four of them made the playoffs,” Walter recalls. “We took fifth.”
The athletic center is the first phase of the Build Faith campaign, which is a nearly $9 million project. The school is purchasing 10 acres of vacant land from Summerlin south of the campus, where a separate middle school building would be constructed as part of the second phase. The new land would also include an aquatic center.
When all of the construction is complete, Faith Lutheran will be able to hold 2,700 students from grades 6 to 12 — none of which will practice outside.
“It is not appropriate for a school that says we’re going to be the standard of excellence to have children not at home in time for dinner, children practicing at 9 at night or children practicing outside,” said Steve Buuck, Faith Lutheran’s CEO. “We have two large schools but just one gym. It wasn’t appropriate. It was time to build. It’s the next phase of what we are trying to accomplish.”
Although a new facility will give the Crusaders teams better resources, officials stress they aren’t expanding to become another Bishop Gorman, a nearby private school and athletic powerhouse. Rather, the project is needed to accommodate an enrollment of 790 high school students and 661 middle school students. Plus, they anticipate a spike in enrollment each year.
All but one player on Faith Lutheran's girls volleyball team, which won the state championship last month, started in the middle school program. It’s the same story for most of the players on the state champion football team. The athletic philosophy and the caliber of athlete won’t change.
“Kids know you don’t have to be Michael Jordan to make our basketball team. You don’t have to be 6-foot-5, 380 pounds to play on our football team,” Buuck said. “We have very average kids who do above average things. Kids are drawn here because they know they can play.
“Yet, we are improving drastically and we are doing it the right way."
Blake Bell, a sophomore guard on the basketball team, has been playing for the program since he was in sixth grade. Like most of his classmates, that means plenty of unorthodox practice settings.
“Our seventh- and eighth-grade year we practiced in the morning. Our sixth-grade team practiced outside on the tennis court,” Bell said. “It wasn’t until last year that I got to practice in the gym the entire season.”
Those days, for Bell and future students, will soon be ending.
“This is about celebrating the next step in an unfinished story,” Buuck told supporters at the ground breaking event.