Jul. 21—Meridian High School volleyball coach Jamie Buxton had to be strategic in scheduling her opening slate of games next month.
After recent upgrades to the MHS gymnasium that included installing air conditioners and new light fixtures, the next step for the gym is new flooring, which is scheduled to be completed Aug. 16.
"I tried to schedule around that and schedule as many away games as possible first," Buxton explained. "Our first home game is actually slated for Aug. 18, which is the day after I can start practicing in here."
Buxton isn't complaining, though. The upgrades were needed, and already the positive effects are being felt whenever they enter the gym at the school.
"I've coached so many seasons in here without air that teams would complain when they came in, so just to come in and be able to have air conditioning in my own practices makes makes me feel extremely blessed and grateful," Buxton said.
The need for air conditioning was highlighted in late 2020 when MHS hosted Hattiesburg for a basketball game. Unseasonably warm temperatures during that contest last November caused the floor to become slick, leading to the boys' game being forfeited with so many players slipping during play. MHS boys basketball coach Ron Norman credited athletic director Cheyenne Trussell for the upgrades and said they've all been welcome additions to the gym.
"Dr. Trussell came in with a vision to upgrade this facility, and he's held true to his word," Norman said. "Already we have new lights, and you don't see as many gray areas that we normally have in here. Now we're getting a whole new floor, and we're also upgrading our side baskets with motors. We'll have a key that lifts the motors so it'll only take a minute and a half to get the gym ready when it'd normally take us 20 to 30 minutes to get the gym set up (before)."
MHS girls basketball coach Deneshia Faulkner said the commitment to upgrades is a reflection of the excellence demanded from the school's athletics.
"We run stellar programs here, and we want our facilities to match that," Faulkner said.
As they await the floor upgrades, Faulkner said the players enjoyed the upgrades that were already in place during workouts in June.
"They loved the air, of course, and we had to threaten to turn it off sometimes," Faulkner said. "We were so used to playing in the heat that practicing in the air will give you a few chest pains, but I think they'd rather have those chest pains than play in the heat. The kids know about the new court but haven't seen the design yet, so I'm going to save our picture day for the completion of our floor, where that will be their first time seeing it."
Norman said his players also enjoyed having an air-conditioned gym during the second half of this past season and during summer practices.
"Me being an old head coach I'd say, 'We need to have this gym warm in the summer,' but walking up here and walking in and not passing out as soon as you start practice is totally different," Norman said. "We held an event here this summer where the other coaches weren't saying, 'Oh my God,' so it's been an upgrade for the kids and the fans as well."
Upgrades also mean better morale among the student-athletes, Buxton said.
"The kids are super stoked," Buxton said. "I talked to many of the girls and let them know about the plans they were making, so they were excited to know that they were cared for enough to get air. There's also a pride that comes with my school caring enough to do renovations and making sure we have the best (surface) to play on."