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The floor of the South Gym is old, slippery and uneven. There aren’t any bleachers so the fans have to sit in plastic chairs along the sideline. The sports teams use public washrooms as changing rooms and four coaches share one office. The lights flicker and sometimes even go out.
“If we’re going to compare it to other venues that we’ve played in, I would say it’s the worst of the league,” said Fred Connors, coach of the St. Thomas University women’s basketball team.
Despite all this, the South Gym is the competition venue for the St. Thomas basketball and volleyball teams. The gym is also being used for University of New Brunswick intramurals, go-go gymnastics, and was once used for a weight lifting competition. STU’s use of the gym is part of the STU-UNB agreement and, although it isn’t costing STU any money, there are drawbacks.
Mike Eagles, STU’s athletic director, doesn’t think it’s an ideal situation.
“One disadvantage is your branding of that facility, in terms of the ability to do it up as a complete STU venue. Recruiting for sports teams is hard when you don’t have your own facility. Scheduling is also a disadvantage. If you did want to move a game you might not be able to because it’s not your facility.”
Connors said the gym hasn’t been improved since he joined the STU basketball program 15 years ago.
“They put a new office across the floor, which four teams are now operating in, in an office that’s basically eight-by-eight,” he said. Connors adds they’ve put an auxiliary library upstairs costing the team their locker room spaces, so they now use the public washroom, while adding those are the only changes he’s seen over the last 15 years.
As a player and coach, Connors has seen and experienced many of the problems that come along with the South Gym. He said it’s not an appropriate facility for a university basketball program.
“The lights always turn out, it’s dusty and dirty, the locker rooms are too small, and we’re sharing them with guys’ teams. The floor is slippery, it’s being used by outside groups that are basically muddying the floor and scratching up the floor.”
The South Gym was once used for a weight-lifting competition, which left holes in the floor. The holes were patched with pieces of wood and then varnished. Once, after the entire floor had been re-varnished, floor hockey players were turned loose on the court and scratched the varnish off.
Connors said the bottom line is that St. Thomas needs a new gym.
Eagles acknowledged that the South Gym is dated but says that a new gym isn’t an option.
“Right now I am going to do the best we can with what we got and try to provide the best experience we can for our athletes. And then dream a little bit that someday we might get a new facility.”
The obstacle is money.
“Before you even think about it, you have to have support from people who make those decisions about financial implications,” Eagles said. “Until that day comes, we’re going to be playing out of the South Gym.”
Eagles said he’s had thoughts about what the South Gym could be if it were renovated.
“Potentially if the building were gutted you might be able to make a real nice facility, but again that’s a decision that is above me.”
If Eagles had a wish list a new gym would be on it. The alternative is playing at the Lady Beaverbrook Gym, which UNB isn’t using.
The women’s volleyball team at STU won the bid to host playoffs this year. However, they’ll be hosting out of the Lady Beaverbrook Gym, not the South Gym.
Eagles met with the volleyball team to discuss the reasons behind the change of venue, one of the biggest being promotion. He says you have to consider more than just your home team when you’re hosting a championship weekend.