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Livingston Daily | Daily Press & Argus

Indoor facility gives Brighton athletes 'upper edge' as spring sports begin

By Bill Khan, Livingston Daily,

2023-03-14
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BRIGHTON — Caitlyn McKenzie’s favorite part about the first day of soccer practice was the lack of whining.

“I love not having people complain about the weather and how we shouldn’t be out here,” said McKenzie, a senior at Brighton. “It’s good to not worry about it and get to training.”

It was a typical first day for spring practice in Michigan — snow, wind and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees.

The elements weren’t a factor for athletes on many of Brighton’s teams, which trained in the comfort of the school district’s spacious new indoor field house Monday instead of devising with creative alternatives to stay active.

The 97,864-square-foot facility was approved in June 2021 at a cost of $7.8 million. The funding came from a $59.4 million bond passed by voters in 2019. It was built on the southeast corner of the Maltby Intermediate School property at the corner of Bauer and Brighton roads, just one mile from the high school.

“Sometimes we had the luxury of renting from other people or going into a gym,” Brighton varsity girls soccer coach Ryan Carriere said. “But it’s really nice to have a home to know we’re not gonna be pushed out of the space. It’s permanent. We walked in here today, and the kids were really excited to be the first people to get on the field as a team.”

The indoor facility — nicknamed the “Dog House” — has been open for nearly three months and is available year-round for Brighton teams. It is particularly valuable for spring sports, which seem to be disproportionately impacted by the unpredictability of Michigan’s weather.

Brighton has had several upgrades to athletic and academic facilities in recent years. The new athletic facilities have included a stadium, pool, tennis courts, weight room and auxiliary practice field.

“The same thing I tell our kids and our coaches is, ‘Yeah, the facilities are certainly an opportunity, but facilities and uniforms and those type of things don’t equate to performance; you have to put the work in,’” Brighton Athletic Director John Thompson said. “It gives them an opportunity to put the work in. Knowing our kids and coaches, they’ll take advantage of that opportunity and hopefully keep us a relevant school from an athletic standpoint in the state of Michigan.”

The boys and girls track and field teams and 58 players trying out for the Brighton freshman, junior varsity and varsity girls soccer teams used the facility at the same time after school Monday with plenty of room in which to operate. The girls lacrosse team, also holding tryouts for all three levels, used the full field after practices concluded for those teams, followed by the boys lacrosse team at night.

The baseball program began tryouts at 5:30 a.m. Monday.

The field is lined for football, soccer, boys and girls lacrosse, rugby and field hockey. Overhead curtains can be moved to separate the field into sections for multiple teams to practice without interfering with one another.

“We really tried to be purposeful in terms of being able to have as much going on in there at one time,” Thompson said.

It wasn’t just the ball sports that were able to use the field turf to get in some quality work. The track and field team has a 110-meter straightaway with a synthetic rubber surface to work on sprints and hurdles, plus areas for pole vault, high jump and long jump. Discus throwers had a makeshift setup, throwing off a wooden board into a durable curtain that separates sections of the field.

For senior Hunter Harding, it gives him a jump start in his bid to get higher on the all-state podium in June. Harding grabbed the final all-state spot in discus last year with a throw of 142 feet, 2 inches.

“We have a little piece of wood we get to throw on,” Harding said. “It’s a little slippery. It’s not like the real thing, but it gets the job done. We’re really blessed to have this.

“That’s gonna help a lot, just because we have an upper edge if people have to go outside in the snow.”

Senior pole vaulter Liam Kinney has already seen the benefits of being able to work on his craft over the winter. He worked on his vaults at least once a week after the building opened, training that paid off when he cleared 15 feet to place third Feb. 26 at the indoor state meet.

His best vault outdoors last year was 14 feet, 2 inches when he won the regional championship.

“Even in March, it’s still snowing and below 30 degrees,” Kinney said. “There’s no way we’re jumping outside.

“Now I can start my season earlier and that’s just gonna really help for the outdoor season. Usually it’s probably a good two, three weeks before we’re back up to where we were last year. It takes a little while, especially with how technical it is.”

Other than having the use of a full 400-meter track and practicing shot put, the track and field squads were able to do anything they’d do outdoors Monday.

“It gives them an advantage to be able to start implementing more skillful practices earlier on with the weather being like the weather is outside,” girls track and field coach Samantha Etter said. “It enables kids to stay safer and healthier being inside, as well.”

Thompson said Brighton is one of the few school districts in the state that have an indoor practice facility. Ypsilanti Lincoln has a full indoor track that recently hosted the state meet, Detroit Country Day has a full-field facility and Jackson just opened a half-field facility, he said.

“We’ve had several visitors from districts who have them on the drawing board,” Thompson said.

Contact Bill Khan at wkhan@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.

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