MERCERVILLE, Ohio — Good things come to those who wait.
And wait. And wait. And wait.
Since the school’s inception back in the fall of 1996, South Gallia — for the most part — has had to make due with what the defunct Hannan Trace school district had previously provided. That, basically, was an older school with a small gymnasium and a smaller football facility.
And, somehow, it worked — mainly because it had to.
Then, in the fall of 2010, the new South Gallia High School opened — giving both Rebel fans and students alike something that they could finally call their own for the first time in 15 years.
Now, as SGHS enter its 17th season of operation, another first is set to take place this fall with the opening of the new multi-sport athletic complex located just behind the now three-year old school.
And this first has a lot more going for it than just the new football field and new track. This is about finally having all the basic necessities that everyone has and, perhaps, takes for granted.
Little things like a training room, or post-game showers, or public bathrooms, or even water fountains for the first couple of weeks in the heat.
Those problems now appear to be a thing of the past, memories that current SGHS athletic director Jack James has no problem letting go of. As he notes after being around since South Gallia’s opening, it’s like a dream coming true.
And if it is a dream, he’s hoping he never wakes up.
“This is a great thing for the South Gallia community, and I really don’t know how you can put it all into words about what this facility means to this school,” James said. “We’ve gotten so used to working with what we’ve had over the years, meaning that we basically converted Hannan Trace into our stuff 16 years ago. Now, like the high school, we have something that is all our own.
“It’s not as spectacular as some other places in the region, but if you look at where we were to where we are … it’s an upgrade you can’t even imagine.”
Home to three playoff teams — including its final campaign last fall — Rebel Field was squeezed in between the corners of three hills and a scoreboard, which technically came up a tad short of the regulation 120 yards needed in length.
There were three unisex port-a-potties available to the public, makeshift concession stands were set up near midfield bleachers and ticket tables were placed where people would most likely try to enter the field after finally finding a parking spot in a limited area.
Fans of both teams had to sit on the same side of the field. There was nowhere at the old facility to get a drink of water outside. There were no phone lines in the press box and no Internet capabilities at the football stadium.
The Rebels basically doubled-up their weight room as a locker room, and their opponents had to change in whatever high school was being used at the time and then march across a parking lot to the field for play.
And the track team has never had a track of their own. They just practiced in a grassy spot on campus or guessed at distances in the parking lot.
It was what it was. Again, because it had to be.
But now, with the addition of this county-provided facility — which includes a very important field house — South Gallia can now officially take its first steps as a school whose athletes are not going without in anything. And neither will the Rebels’ opposition.
It’s literally like moving from the outhouse to the penthouse.
“You will struggle to find a D-6 school in the state of Ohio that has a facility like this,” James said. “We’ve gone from one of the lower level fields in the TVC Hocking to possibly the best in our division. I really believe opponents are going to enjoy coming here a lot more too.”
The obvious upgrades at the new stadium include a natural grass playing surface, with drainage, surrounded by an eight-lane track with enough bleachers on both sides of the place to seat around 1,000 fans.
The new facility is entrenched in a valley surrounded by trees for plenty of fresh air, and just above the north endzone sits a hill that will be where the discus event takes place during spring. All of the other track and field facilities are located within the new complex under new lighting.
And then there is the south endzone, where the real jewel in this crown sits in the form of a field house.
The field house has 50 lockers apiece in both locker rooms, along with showers and other amenities that may be needed by players before a game, during halftime or after a contest. The SGHS coaches have their own office with showers, lockers, and both phone and Internet capabilities, and even the officials have their own place to get ready for and after a game.
The new field house also has spaces for a concession stand, men’s and women’s restrooms and also a unisex family restroom, available for parents of young children who might need a changing station during a contest. There are also spots for a weight room and the school’s first-ever athletic training room inside the field house to go along with a pair of ticket booths at the front of the entrance tunnel.
Besides the almost 30-plus toilets available for usage, there are also upgrades of at least a dozen sinks in the restrooms and three water fountains on the outside of the building. And in the press box, phone and Internet lines are available in a two-tiered building that also has central air.
There is also a brand new scoreboard in the north endzone, which just happens to be the first thing you see while walking into the stadium through the entry tunnel.
And with the old facilities that were left behind, South Gallia now has an extra practice field and a parking lot to complement all the other things that they finally have.
James, who has heard a lot of praise for the facility because of his tenure at SGHS, is quick to give the credit where the credit is due.
“Honestly, I am enjoying my job right now. I get to give tours of this place, and I love doing it, but I cannot take any credit for this,” James said. “The real credit belongs with Dr. Charla Evans and the Gallia County School Board of Education, Ohio Valley Bank and the Gridiron for Gallia Committee, and anyone and everyone else in Gallia County that helped make this possible.
“At the end of the day, it’s a great thing for our kids and our community. This is something special to us here at South Gallia, both now and down the road. A lot of special people made this possible.”
Jason Peck is about to enter his third season as the head football coach at SGHS after spending a few years as an assistant in the program. More than anything, Peck is excited about having more time to focus on his job.
“At the old field, we had to move the weight room around just so we could have enough room to get dressed for Friday night,” Peck said. “Now, both of those things are in separate rooms and we won’t run into that issue, unless we have more than 50 kids make the varsity roster. Now we can just focus on football and don’t have to worry about all of the other things that we had to do in the past.”
Peck is also quick to acknowledge that the new complex is already making a positive impact on his Division VI program.
“We have a lot of kids interested in the program this year. That’s probably because of the new facility, because everybody wants to be part of the first year,” Peck said. “The numbers are coming from the facility, and both will be a big boost to myself and the coaching staff.
“Everything we need as a program is compacted right here on campus, so we can get right to work both on the field and off the field without losing a lot of time. It will allow us to be more efficient and get more done in preparing week to week. We’re all really looking forward to defending our territory.”
The upgrade is obvious in the eyes of South Gallia, but this story also has a second part. Everything that the Rebels have received, so too has River Valley — the other Gallia County school to benefit from this project.
James, who was also the first football coach at River Valley when the school started in the fall of 1991, was more than moved to see the final results at both locations. It was also something he thought he’d never be around to take in.
“I really thought the new schools would be the last additions I’d ever see to the Gallia County School District in this lifetime,” James said with a small tear of pride. “I started the River Valley football program when the school opened and then started from scratch when we opened here at South Gallia. After 30 years in this area and seeing this for both schools that I have spent time at, it makes you feel good — like all that work over the years has been worth it.”
SGHS officially begins a new chapter in its athletic history when the Rebels open their multi-purpose facility in a Week 1 regular season football game against Sciotoville East in a matchup of Division VI playoff teams from a year ago.