Prepping the High School Gym for Game Night
By Paul Steinbach
It wasn't all that long ago that a high school gymnasium served primarily as the largest classroom on campus. During the school week, physical education was still a requisite course of study for underclassmen in most regions of the country, and sports practices jockeyed for occupancy after school hours.
Wooden bleachers still provide gyms with a rich, traditional aesthetic, but many schools are opting instead for contoured plastic bleacher seating for fan comfort and maintenance staff peace of mind. Such seating allows for incorporation of team colors, and graphics have advanced from jagged lettering spelled out by alternating the colors of individual seating blocks to detailed imagery spanning large portions of the bleacher unit — whether its open or closed. Schools can even communicate motivational messages with wording transferred onto stair risers.
Aisles have become safer with the advent of handrail codes, and certain bleacher systems come with handrails that rotate into position as the bleachers are opened, thus eliminating the extra step of installing and removing them before and after games. Aisle railings and end guards can even be customized to bear the team colors.
A game-night seating enhancement that requires no railing at all is the incorporation of temporary three-row units along the baselines, creating more of a four-sided arena enclosure. Students, in particular, favor this location, often arriving to the gym early to secure their seats under the basket.
For schools that still utilize the first row of their sideline bleachers for team benches, an innovative product now exists that attaches chair backs to the front row using a minimal number of stanchions (two stanchions may support several chairbacks in between). The front row can also be specified to leave gaps between sections of seats, allowing room for wheelchair access and scorer's tables.
Alternatively, team bench seating at the high school level can take the form of upholstered folding chairs of the kind seen on collegiate and professional sidelines, complete with thick cushioning and team color and logo coordination on seats, backs and gussets.
Before fans can experience game night, the gym has to be converted to the sport at hand. That process has gotten easier over the years with lighter, stronger and more easily adjusted stanchions for basketball and volleyball moved into position manually, as well as automation that allows basketball and volleyball equipment to be folded and stored near the gym's ceiling and raised or lowered with the push of a button.
Moreover, the evolution of high school competition has at times dictated new pieces of game-night-only equipment. Beginning in 1981, jump balls were limited to the start of high school basketball games and overtime, and the alternating-possession indicator — which today typically takes the form of a box with illuminated arrows situated on top of the scorer's table — was introduced to speed up the game.
Another potential change focused on the pace of play will require another piece of equipment to enter the high school gym space on game night. Nine states have either implemented a shot clock (typically 30 or 35 seconds) or are in the process of doing so, thus surrendering their seats on the basketball rules committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which has yet to endorse such a rule change. Eighteen of 29 state associations responding to a 2017 NFHS survey indicated they are against shot clock implementation, and impact on the game is only part of the reasoning — cost of installation and operation are cited, as well. Meanwhile, a majority of 6,000 high school coaches participating in the survey said they favor a shot clock.
Indeed, time may be running out on offenses that hang onto leads by holding onto the ball. In March, USA Basketball and the NBA jointly recommended a 24-second shot clock be introduced to high school competition nationwide.
Converting the high school gym — from educational space by day to event destination at night — has never been easier, or more exciting. Even permanent spirit-inducing gym features such as wall and floor graphics have gotten bigger and better, as has the branding of wall and stanchion padding. Given the technological changes witnessed over the past 50 years, it's a virtual slam dunk that more high school gyms will continue to mimic collegiate and even pro arenas in the interest of heightening the game-day energy level of players, students and fans.
This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Prepping the high school gym for game night."
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