Although the high school football season doesn’t officially start for another month and a half, St. John Neumann High School football coach Steve Howey’s season started Thursday.
“This is so great. The kids are excited, the coaches are excited. The community is excited,” he said. “These lights are really going to make a difference.”
Howey, his fellow coaches and even some players stood in the hot sun Thursday morning to watch as crews installed the Golden Gate school’s first set of stadium lights.
The lights, which are part of St. John Neumann’s $10 million “Building the Dream” capital campaign, will allow the school to host a football game in the evening for the first time in its 27-year history. The Friday, Sept. 14, game will be played against the Knights of Archbishop Curley High School in Miami.
“It’s great,” said quarterback Bobby Davis Jr. “We will finally be able to get more people around the neighborhood to come out to games because they will be held after people are finished working. It will be nice to bring a crowd around here.”
Donna Haiser, director of development at St. John Neumann, said the stadium lights were the first step in the school’s campaign to improve facilities.
“We’re building as we raise the funds. The sooner we raise the money, the faster we can build,” she said.
“We were anxious to do this first because we have never had the capabilities to do night games. We wanted something we could do to accommodate the athletic department and the students first.”
The lights are part of Phase I, which will cost $4.5 million and will see the construction of a new chapel and a new campus ministry center and a Celtic cross monument. There will be safety improvements made to the entire campus, including fire alarms and security alarms throughout the campus. The gymnasium will be reroofed, the locker rooms will be expanded and a new fitness training facility will be built.
With Phase II, the school will build a new student life center with an indoor dining area with full kitchen and an assembly hall to allow for school events such as performing arts and assemblies. There will be a new media and technology center constructed, and the science labs will also be retrofitted during the $4 million project.
Finally, Phase III will see renovations to the gym, including replacing the gym floor with wood flooring and adding a third court for practice. If the campaign can raise $12 million, the school will construct a new gym instead of renovating the existing gym. The existing gym would be renovated into flex space for the school.
Haiser said the school is right on target for the three-year campaign and said the school is looking forward to a busy fall season.
Howey said the football team is looking forward to taking advantage of the lights. He said the stadium lights will benefit St. John Neumann players because they will be able to play games at night when the temperatures are cooler, adding practices will take place once a week at night under the new lights.
“We’re going to have the scheduling capacity to play better teams, which is going to make us better,” he said.
Howey said the school’s ability to play night games is also helping his students get noticed by colleges.
“We are the only Catholic high school in Collier County and we are the only private high school in Collier County to offer football,” he said. “This is exciting.”
The football team won’t be the only athletic team to benefit from the new lights. As crews worked to get the first two lights up Thursday, several members of the St. John Neumann soccer team worked out at a camp on the field.
“This is great. It’s one more step in the right direction for the athletic department,” said Ben Fite, boy’s soccer coach. “It frees up our schedule and makes things easier for us.”
Before the lights, if the soccer game got started late, the school was often rushing to get as much playing time in before dark, Fite said. That won’t be a concern anymore.
Fite did see one downside to the new lights, though.
“Unfortunately for the players, this means they won’t get to get out of school early for games,” he said with a laugh.