By BEN JOHNSON
Press Sports Editor
If Oklahoma State is to fulfill its dream of owning a much-desired indoor practice facility, perhaps the Cowboys should get creative — just like Tahlequah High School did.
The Tigers didn’t have the funds to construct an immaculate monstrosity — like OSU covets. Instead, THS infused new life into an old, rundown gymnasium, transforming it into a new athletic haven.
“We’ve got to utilize our facilities at a very minimal cost,” said Tahlequah football coach Charlie Cooper talking about the physical education gymnasium that the Tigers converted into an indoor practice facility during the summer months. “As time had gone on, this kind of became the red-headed stepchild and became depreciated a great deal. But it’s a good facility, and it’s a solid building.”
Located south and slightly east of the TMAC, the Tigers’ new indoor facility features roughly 30 square yards of synthetic carpet. The building was opened in the 1980s but was primarily used for classroom activities.
Cooper said the idea behind the conversion stems from his time spent in Northwest Arkansas where he coached football at Rogers High School.
“When I was at Rogers (Ark.), we built one of these,” said Cooper, who roamed the sidelines at Tahlequah from 1980-1992 before leaving for Arkansas. “These things are so valuable to work out in, whether it’s during the season or the offseason.”
The Tigers, who moved all of their weight equipment into the practice facility where it’s now situated along the north and west walls, will be able to protect their practice field by utilizing the new building.
“It’s an asset beyond belief,” Cooper said. “For example, if you have a wet (practice) field, you can come in here and work out and not destroy your practice field.
“Because in the fall, on the football field, you work out and tear it up, and there’s no recovery. The growth season is over, and it just becomes rodeo grounds.”
In addition to preserving the grass on the practice field, the building also protects personal equipment, keeping it more useful for a longer period of time.
“It’s easier on equipment,” Cooper said. “You go outside and get your shoes good and wet and your pads filthy, and those shoes and those pads soak up that moisture — and they don’t recover from it. And it’ll save you money over the long haul.”
While it’s nowhere near the size of Oklahoma’s practice facility in Norman, the Tigers will make the smaller size work for them.
“You just have to utilize the space that you have,” said Cooper, the winningest coach in THS history with a record of 93-56. “You can’t work on the kicking game — or anything like that — on a full-scale basis or work on a full sideline-to-sideline basis, but you can scale it down and get done what you need done.”
By brandishing an indoor facility, Tahlequah joins an elite group among Oklahoma high school football programs. While Tulsa Union, Owasso and some other Class 6A schools own their own versions of indoor facilities, the Tigers became the trailblazer at the 5A level.
“A lot of people in Oklahoma have indoor weight facilities that are big,” Cooper said. “But they don’t have an area where they can do some things with the football.”
Some of the Tiger football players had no idea they were getting a present in the offseason. Copper said some were shocked by the new acquisition.
“They like it,” Cooper said. “It’s nice, it’s fresh and it’s a whole lot different situation then what they had.”
The football program, however, won’t be the only one using the new addition to the athletic program. Baseball, softball, soccer and other sports will likely use the facility at some point along the way.
“The one over in Rogers (Ark.), soccer was in there and others were too,” Cooper said. “I know that baseball wants a pitching-and-hitting area, soccer will want to use it ... and you could even hit golf balls off this carpet, but it probably wouldn’t be very smart to hit them against these walls.”
Managing each sports time in the building will be Cooper’s primary concern.
“The biggest problem this facility will have will be scheduling,” he said. “There will be a lot of people wanting to use it, which is fine, but you can’t schedule people on top of each other.”