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The basketball players at the Academy for Technology and the Classics are known as the Phoenix.
But they were more akin to a band of wandering minstrels, constantly looking for a place to play.
For years, their practices have been spread across elementary and middle schools in Santa Fe. In exchange for a place to practice or play their games, players actually have traded their time as tutors to help students at the host schools.
The boys would practice in the mornings, sometimes before 6 a.m., while the girls would take the late shift, practicing at 6 p.m.
It was not an ideal situation and not one that lent itself to building the program through players or coaches.
But that has all changed this season as ATC – a charter school in its seventh season that has about 230 high schools students – unveiled a gleaming new gymnasium as part of a $6.5 million addition approved by local voters. New additions also included locker rooms, an athletic office, two new science labs, a music room and a kitchen/micro-cafeteria.
The school’s first varsity game unfolded Tuesday as the Phoenix boys dropped a 64-37 decision to Springer. The girls got their first taste of home cooking in a game late Saturday against Cottonwood Classical.
For basketball games, seating capacity is about 250 and when the area is used as an assembly hall or for concerts and plays, it will seat more than 400.
“I think we’re going to be maxed out,” principal Susan Lumley said of attendance. “I think we’re going to have a full house at every game.”
That’s will be a nice change from when students had to pull out Google Maps just to figure out where the next game was being played.
“It’s nice to walk down the hallways to go to the game rather than going to another facility,” Lumley said. “It will increase school spirit and create some loyalty.”
Everything is a little smaller than what was originally planned, said athletic director Tim Host.
“But at the end of the day, what we have is amazing, which replaces nothing,” he said. “Which is what we had forever.”
The players already feel a connection to the new digs, said senior team captain Milan Lombardo, and believe that the gym will develop the ATC basketball teams into programs the school can rally behind.
“We could never develop a culture of basketball at our own place,” Lombardo said. “People weren’t as committed and excited. We never developed our own culture. Now we can have music, we can have our own environment with a home arena. We can have a band there. Teams can recognize like us like we’re somebody. You’re not traveling around like a circus.”
Construction started in August 2018 and was completed in time for this season’s basketball practices.
And it has already has paid dividends. Lumley said that, in the past, “it was very difficult to maintain a coaching staff or attract coaching applicants.” But when the girls head coaching slot came open, legendary coach Ron Drake, who was coming off a state championship at Pecos, was one of the applicants and was eventually hired.
“I don’t think he would have been interested in coaching at ATC if he didn’t have a gym to use,” Lumley said. “He was interested in working with ATC students, but I think the determining factor was the gym.”
The new facility also eliminates the need for athletes to act as tutors, which, while not a bad thing, was also a further drain on the players whose time management skills were already strained in a school that offers only Advanced Placement classes.
“It was a little extra work for our athletes that most athletes did not have,” Lumley said. “Having our gym allows everybody to concentrate on their sport rather than divide their time. I can’t say (tutoring) was a terrible thing. It benefited elementary students and developed character for our athletes, but it did take time away from being able to develop their sport.”
And just having the gym gives the ATC program a camaraderie all the way down through the middle school teams, Lombardo said.
“We can change in our locker rooms,” he said. “We have speakers so we can play music. It’s our environment, our space. We feel natural there. We can set the tone. We have a seventh- and eighth-grade team, and now all the teams are seeing each other and the coaches interact with each team. There’s an entire dynamic and unity.”
As a team leader, Lombardo said the gym offers a great chance to put a stamp on the program that never would have been possible before.
“It’s a good opportunity to set an example as a captain and a senior,” he said. “I’m personally happy to be able to set an example for them. To see some of the younger players and show them some of the things which are right. We set an expectation for the future. It’s a really good feeling.”