Junior high parents, athletes and coaches in the Brainerd School probably can't wait for Forestview Middle School in Baxter to open its doors.
Because of a lack of facilities, junior high athletes currently have to play or practice at any unoccupied field or gym in Brainerd and Baxter.
For example, junior high baseball plays at Baxter Park, soccer and softball at Memorial Park, junior high tennis at Gregory Park and volleyball at Riverside Elementary.
Sixth-grade football practices at Washington Middle School and sixth-grade basketball plays at any available elementary school gym.
Currently, buses shuttle students to activities throughout the district. Buses pick up students at Franklin Junior High, Washington and Mississippi Horizons. Six shuttle buses sometimes run in one day.
"It's a logistical nightmare to shuttle kids wherever they need to go every season," said Lance Hanfler, junior high athletic director and dean of students at Mississippi Horizons. "It shortens practice time when kids spend 15-20 minutes on a bus."
When Forestview (grades 5-8) opens during the 2004-05 school year, most busing of junior high athletes will come to a welcome halt. Forestview's athletic complex, situated on 33 acres, will be one of the state's most comprehensive.
Forestview's facilities will be available for use by community education and senior citizens programs. Community education will have an office on-site.
"This is something we've all been striving for, something that I've wanted to have happen for my whole career, to finally have all junior high venues, for all sports, in one location," said Hanfler, who will retire in June after 35 years in Brainerd. "The district has spent a lot of money over the years transporting kids to various sites all over town. This is certainly going to be a money saver."
Indoors, Forestview will feature four full-size size gyms that will be surrounded by a four-lane running track, a wrestling room and a fitness/strength area.
"We're still going to have to bus swimmers to the high school," Hanfler said. "Hopefully, within a short period of time, we will be able to add a pool onto this facility. It was not part of the original bond, but I know the community of Baxter and the school district certainly need another swimming pool.
"Boys' and girls' swimming is so successful and so popular with the kids that it's a real crunch at the high school to get everything together. Thankfully, the varsity programs are willing to go later so junior high kids can practice early."
Beginning next fall, junior high boys' and girls' basketball seasons will be separate. Boys' basketball will begin after football ends and run until Christmas. Girls' basketball will start in January of 2004 and run until early March. The genders will rotate seasons thereafter.
Seasons will remain the same length as they currently are and teams will continue to play the same number of games.
"Every school in our conference already has been doing this for quite a few years, and we still won't lose Bemidji, Grand Rapids, Staples-Motley and Crosby-Ironton," Hanfler said. "We will still get those schools on our schedule. The only thing that changes is the time when we have the season.
"We won't have to go with late practices. We can have sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders practicing at the same time, one gender, on all four floors."
Outdoors, the facilities will include:
* Two regulation-size soccer fields.
* A regulation baseball field and one smaller baseball field that will overlap onto an adjacent football field.
* Three football fields, with one main stadium surrounded by an eight-lane track.
* Three softball fields.
* Eight tennis courts.
"It's probably going to start out to be a little bare bones," Hanfler said of the outdoor facility. "We've had to make some cutbacks, things like dugouts and lighting. I'm sure that will come in the future."
Hanfler is thrilled the school district will finally have first-class junior high facilities. He called the project "a great culmination to my career."
"This whole year has kind of been an amazing year, getting the Region 8AA athletic director of the year award and being able to be involved with this," he said.
In addition, the football complex at Forestview will be named in his honor.
"I guess the ultimate tribute a person can be paid in this line of work is having a field named after you," Hanfler said.
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