Worth the ‘weight’: USD 405 opens new facility

New weight room opens for Lyons students 

By Mike Courson

After the completion of a new middle school and some upgrades to the existing high school, some half a million dollars still sat in the account of USD 405’s 2013 bond initiative. This Tuesday, the use of those funds finally came to fruition as the district opened its weight room to students for the first time.

“The kids are excited about it,” said USD 405 Lyons Superintendent Bill Day. “(Tuesday) morning was their first full workout in there. The coaches are excited about it because it’s been a long process and it’s something we’ve needed for a long time. I think it’s going to be great for everybody.”

The new 5,300-square foot facility, tucked away in a metal-framed building behind Lyons High School and Middle School, is more or less an add-on to that 2013 initiative that led to the construction of a new middle school.

“We had about half a million dollars remaining after finishing the projects in the 2013 bond issue,” Day said. “We needed to figure out what we could do with it, and it had to meet one of the criteria set in the bond. Improvements for the new middle school was one of those issues.”

A weight room had been included in bond talks but was dropped before the final vote. With excess funds remaining, the weight room again became a possibility. Approximately 50 percent of funding comes from the local tax base and 50 percent will come from the state.

“The middle school and high school, neither one had what you would consider a weight room,” said Day. “What they’ve used for years is a regular classroom that had weight equipment in it. For some of the larger classes it was difficult to use effectively because (the students) were tripping over each other. It’s kind of a safety issue when you have that many people in a small classroom. This will take care of all those concerns.”

Building a weight room

Building a new weight room has to be easy, right? Fill it with benches and free weights and let the students get to work. In reality, several companies around the nation offer specialized equipment to schools. Finding the right equipment proved to be a chore for USD 405 staff.

“It was actually hard work shopping for equipment,” said Brian Friess, varsity basketball coach and physical education teacher at LHS. “We tried to get as many coaches involved as possible. We had a meeting or two where every coach was invited to give his or her input. Some coaches showed and some didn’t. I thought it would be really easy – just pick some equipment and let’s go. It was quite a process, actually.”

Friess, along with USD 405 board members Gary Smith and Kevin McClure, LHS Principal Kelly Nusser, and former varsity volleyball coach Katie Herrman toured other high school facilities to gather information before making a purchase.

“We went to Sterling, Kingman, Maize South, Goddard Eisenhower, and Inman,” Friess said. “We were trying to decide if we were going to use the facility as a school facility only, or involve the Lyons Rec Commission and let the community use the facility, too. It was not an easy decision. It helped us talking with other schools that share their facility with the public. We weighed the pros and cons and decided, for various reasons, to use it as a school facility only.”

In the end, the committee – with a budget of approximately $82,000 –  went with Pro Maxima equipment. Six Power Racks line the west wall and four more adorn the east well. Each Power Rack includes a bench and squat rack and cleans can also be done at each station.

“We had three squat racks were you could squat, we had three benches for bench press, and we had three spots in the middle where you could clean,” Friess said of the old weight room. “Now we can have 10 kids benching or squatting. It’s going to be amazing.”

Each of the 10 new Power Racks offers the ability to bench, squat, and clean. Each rack is also outfitted with a pull-up bar. The white and blue theme matches school colors. (photo by Mike Courson).

Each rack was custom made for USD 405. The racks are black and white and the vinyl on the benches is blue to match school colors. The district also elected to attach pull-up bars to the front of each rack.

On the north wall are leg and back machines, and on the south end is the cardio equipment to be used by students and athletes for rehabilitation.

“Most of our equipment was chosen around the lifts we use in the Bigger, Faster, Stronger Program (BFS),” said Friess. “We then picked auxiliary machines for specific sports. All our athletes will do the main BFS lifts, then they can do the auxiliaries that will be sport-specific for whichever season in which the athlete is currently involved.”

Building better athletes

USD 405 sports have been in a lull in recent seasons. The LHS football team has lost 20-straight games dating back to October 2015. The LHS basketball won just two games last season, and the baseball team posted an 0-21 record. The track, cross country, and golf teams combined to send just one athlete to state. Two Lady Lions attended the state tennis tournament.

“We’re going through a low period in sports outcomes right now,” Day said. “All schools have ups and down, hills and valleys. One of the things that has put Lyons High School and Lyons Middle School behind the eight ball for years is the fact that other schools have had tremendous improvements in their strength and conditioning facilities over the past decade or so.

“We were struck in this little classroom with not enough room and not enough weights. This will put us on level playing field with our competitors, at least from the facility perspective. It will help our kids starting at the middle school, up until they graduate, become better athletes. When you have better athletes you tend to have better teams.”

The old weight room measured around 1,100 square feet as was considered by many to be the worst in the Central Kansas League. The new weight facility offers five times the space and much more equipment.

With Sterling dropping out of the CKL in favor of the Heart of America League, Lyons is now the second-smallest team in the league (Hillsboro is smaller). With state powers in the league across all sports, the new weight room is one way to become more competitive.

“One of the things the coaches have noticed is our athletes are just smaller – not as physically strong as many of the teams we play,” said Friess. “This is now going to give us one less excuse as to why we aren’t as physically strong as our competition. It won’t happen overnight, but I’d like to think we will see benefits in the next 2-4 years.”

Implementing a program

The new equipment may be pretty but just looking at it does little for athletes. That’s where weight-lifting programs come in. Day has suggested all coaches implement a weight-lifting portion to each practice.

“We have decided to lift four days a week instead of three days,” said James Johnston, varsity football and track coach at LHS. “We followed Coach Friess’ lead. He started lifting four days a week with his weight lifting class. The kids have gotten a lot stronger as a result.

“We have had the best lifting attendance so far this summer. I think the new facility has been a big motivator for the kids.”

USD 405, from top to bottom, is lining up to utilize the new facility to increase student health and increase the potential for Lyons High and Lyons Middle School athletes.

“Our new Athletic Director (Jeff Fuss) is big on having all the coaches and all the athletes on the same page,” Friess said. “He is really big on getting the athletes in the weight room in the summer months, as well as getting them enrolled in our weights and conditioning classes during the school year.

“As the basketball coach, I have told my athletes that the ones who are in the weight room and the gym in the summer months will be the ones who see most of the playing time in December, January, and February.

“If we want to turn around our athletic programs, our coaches and athletes have to buy in to being bigger, faster, and stronger. The days of having the summers ‘off’ are over for the teams that want to win. We hope this facility will get the athletes excited and in the weight room. Then we coaches, administrators, parents, and community members will need to encourage our athletes to lift. Athlete buy in, in my opinion, is going to be the single, biggest, obstacle we will need to overcome.”

New incentives

Having a new facility is one reason to work out but the new weight room has a couple extra incentives. Climate control makes for comfortable workout conditions and a state-of-the-art stereo provides the sound track for a good workout. A new school record board will adorn one of the walls. Broken down by male and female and various weights, record holders for each lift will be listed.

“Two years ago we started breaking it up into weight classes so it’s not just the (big guys) getting everything,” Friess said.

“Our goal is to get stronger and become better athletes. We’re not so worried about being body builders. We want better athletes that carry over to the football field or basketball court.”

Also new is a bell near the front entrance. A shiny attention getter, it can only be rung on special occasions. “I was on the Internet looking at weight rooms and I saw some school with one of those,” Friess said. “The only time you get to ring it is when you get a new (personal record). I thought that was a pretty cool deal.”

Already the fun has started. The facility officially opened its doors Tuesday morning to a nice turnout of student athletes ready to work.

“It was fun Tuesday morning seeing the athletes’ eyes when they walked into the new facility for the first time,” said Friess. “I hope the athletes who were there Tuesday will spread the word and get other athletes out of bed and into the facility. I do think the new facility will help with enrollment in our weights and conditioning classes this next school year.

“We have increased our high school offerings from four classes to six classes each day. We will also be able to raise the class limit from about 20 to 40 students. We will also be able to have a high school weights class opposite the middle school weights class. There will be no reason we can’t have two classes working out at the same time.”

If put to good use, the new weight room should have dividends for so many in the community. As a coach and teacher, Friess will see extra benefits from the new facility.

“My biggest ‘thank you’ goes to Mr. Day, the board of education, our administration, and the members of the new facility committee,” he said. “I think we have one of the premier weight facilities in our area –maybe even the state!”

USD 405 will hold an Open House for the new weight room on Friday, Aug. 3. Students and athletes with at least a 90-percent attendance rate over the summer will first enjoy steaks care of LHS coaches and staff.

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