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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 15, 2011

“Everyone’s spirit is lifted”
BKW opens up new gym, community pride is a winner, but team loses

BERNE –– There wasn’t a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s new gymnasium on Friday as it hosted its first night of basketball. Instead, there were droves of people who brought the community’s pride with them as they packed the bleachers and cheered on their team.

The unveiling of the new gym brought out some old faces and many new ones. The excitement in the building made the bright lights seem even brighter. Smiles were seen as reflections off the beautiful, clean hardwood court.

“There’s people here that I haven’t seen in years,” said Athletic Director Tom Galvin, who also serves as the girls’ basketball coach and is a teacher at BKW. He went to school here.

The new gym, which was a large piece of the $12.7-million building project, opened its doors to a mighty match-up between the Bulldogs and Mekeel Christian Academy on Friday. Spectators who couldn’t find a seat had to find a place to stand.

BKW competed strongly against state-ranked Mekeel, but ended the evening with a 67-to-58 loss. The Bulldogs didn’t have an answer for tall-man Colin Stewart, who continuously drove the lane, finishing with 30 points. He’s attending Division 1 Monmouth and went to the free throw line 12 times on Friday.

Despite the outcome, BKW felt the electricity from tip-off to the final buzzer. “The kids fed off that, no doubt,” said Head Coach Andy Wright after the game. “It was a very tough opponent to open this gym with, but I feel very strongly about this place giving us success. I’m a constant optimist.”

The gym is named after Ray “Pete” Shaul, who coached basketball, among other sports, at BKW from 1955 to 1978. There’s a framed picture in the lobby of Shaul being raised over his players’ shoulders with a big trophy in his hand. He’s dressed in a suit and looks quite happy.

 “He’s the reason why we have a successful basketball program,” Galvin said of Shaul after his girls’ team blew out Sharon Springs by 56 points on Tuesday night. (See related story.) “He started it all. He brought the love.”

The building project, approved before the recession, went forward despite recent years of budget defeats. A bronze statue of a Bulldog, the school’s mascot, in the front lobby was purchased by the BKW Student Senate after fund-raising for an entire year.

The new gym is in the same spot as the old gym, which was built in the mid-‘70s, and is relatively the same size. The ceiling is higher, bleachers are on one side, and the locker rooms are right off of the court instead of downstairs. There’s little room separating the spectators from the court, but it makes the fans feel like they’re in the game. Also, there’s no room between the court and the benches, so coaches frequently step on the court if they’re pacing the bench.

Junior Garrett Pitcher, who was the Bulldogs’ leading scorer with 16 points on Friday, told The Enterprise that it took some time to get used to the new surroundings. The team didn’t even get to practice on the court because it wasn’t ready to go until Friday afternoon.

“I do miss having fans on both sides and the rims are a little tight, but this is really nice,” Pitcher said. “It’s so much better and it felt amazing to play on. I think this new gym gives us something to prove.”

When a player dribbled hard down the court, it reverberated like thunder. The hardwood court has new technology, allowing the floor to give a little, which is better for players’ knees and ankles.

“This facility is state of the art,” said Fred Marcil, the physical education director. “Everything is brighter and more exciting. It reenergizes the school.”

The old gym was dark and weathered, but Galvin said the new gym was set up so that it doesn’t lose the feel of home. “The old gym was great, but it was time for a change,” he said. “It’s like driving a new car.”

Before Friday’s game, students gathered to help get the gym cleaned up. During the day, a wall had been taken down in the lobby and things were still being painted and fixed. The basketball hoops were installed on Thursday.

Robert Bentley, a social studies teacher and former girls’ junior-varsity basketball coach, never thought he’d see a new gym at BKW. “It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “Everyone’s spirit is lifted.”

Bright stage

It was an important night for BKW basketball. The Bulldogs couldn’t beat Mekeel, but BKW was able to compete against a top-notch team. BKW was within four points, 58 to 54, with two minutes left in regulation play, but Mekeel held on.

“We’re going to be competitive if we can hit on all cylinders,” Wright said. “My players felt like they were on some sort of stage.”

BKW had a few bad breaks in the fourth quarter when it was trying to come back. First, the shot clock didn’t reset after the ball appeared to graze the rim, which resulted in a turnover. Second, senior Nate Krimsky fouled out of the game on a questionable call. Krimsky is an important piece of the Bulldogs’ offense, but the team was without him for the final four minutes.

Pitcher said that a lot of “touch fouls” were called during the game. “We didn’t play badly, but I’m always the one thinking that I can play better,” he said. “We can always do more.”

The Bulldogs had a solid first half, but a better first quarter. Tyler Sigond established his strong inside game and Tristan Wilson made two consecutive three-pointers. BKW had a 15-to13 lead at the end of the first quarter after Mike Gamble drained a half court shot at the buzzer, sending the packed crowd into frenzy.

However, Mekeel scored 20 points in the third quarter to pull away. Stewart got through the defense easily, which opened up some opportunities for three-point shots on the perimeter. Stewart’s brother, Caleb, scored 15 points and Drew Alteri added eight.

A win on opening night would have been ideal, but as a human, an educator, and a coach, Wright sees the glass as half full. “When that glass is half empty,” he said, “it’s a lot harder to finish what’s left.”

On Tuesday, BKW lost at Sharon Springs, 71 to 56. The Spartans are another quality Western Athletic Conference team, now 4-0.

“It’s disappointing not to open this place up with a win,” Pitcher said on Friday, “but we’ve got to keep our heads up.”

— By Jordan J. Michael

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