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MOUNT ZION -- The Braves are going big at home.

With the addition of the 50,000 square foot field house on the north side of the school, Mount Zion is putting its facilities into a class of its own come late November. There are schools in central Illinois that have an indoor track or that hold other amenities, but few compare to what Mount Zion is erecting now.

"As far as I know, we may be one of the only districts in Illinois that has all three of the major items in that we have a major auditorium, field house and artificial surface," Mount Zion superintendent Travis Roundcount said. "I haven't found one yet. If you find one, let me know."

"I think everybody I talked to said, if you're going to build it, you always want to build it bigger," Mount Zion athletics director Mike Mose said. "Ours is definitely bigger than theirs."

The completion is still a few months away -- Nov. 30 is the current target date -- and construction will have been going on for a year come October. It's part of the $20 million in construction and renovations Mount Zion is in the midst of completing this year.

When it's all done, the Braves will have a field house that has a six-lane, 200-meter indoor track that expands to eight on a straightaway, enough full-length basketball courts for four games to be played simultaneously and several batting cages.

While the main purpose for the field house will be to hold physical education classes and offer more practice space for athletics, there's also hope it will become a destination spot for a variety of summer tournaments.

"I think it's going to have a huge impact," Mose said. "We've talked to other places that have a facility like this and they've said you're able to hold more AYBT (American Youth Basketball Tour) tournaments, high school (basketball) shootouts for boys and girls, volleyball invitationals.

"You're going to bring more people to the community. They're going to hit the restaurants, they're going to go to the gas stations, maybe stay in the hotels if it's a weekend tournament. I just think it's a huge advantage for our community, and I'm excited to get this thing done."

Inside, massive, red block letters that read "BRAVES NATION" along the long wall will accompany a MTZ logo on the short walls covered in black paint. Outside, red and black paneling towers around windows that stretch from the top to nearly the bottom.

In between the current school and the field house is a lobby that connects to both floors of the school. Outside, in what used to be a field, lies a new parking lot that Mose said will provide slightly more parking than before.

The field house will be the home to much of the school's varsity sports practices, but only track will use it for actual meets. A net that drapes along the inside of the track can drop down to keep sports practicing on the inside from interfering with those on the outside.

Track coach Bill Harbeck, who coached for three decades at MacArthur before another decade at Mount Zion, can barely believe his eyes.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "It's going to make everything a lot better, a lot easier. It's a fantastic thing."

Harbeck loves little as much as training, and the field house is designed to do just that. Instead of working out in a 50- to 60-meter hallway in the winter and early spring, he'll have a full facility and plenty of space.

"It's going to help the sprints," Harbeck said. "There's going to be a long jump pit as well. And for our track team, we could never high jump with the space we had."

It'll help athletes like freshman Josie Held, who took fourth at state in the pole vault as a freshman last spring. Instead of needing to drive up to Champaign to train, now there will be a much closer option.

The flooring will be made of a synthetic rubber -- MONDO Super X -- and the track will alternate red and gray lanes.

Roundcount said he didn't know what the field house specifically cost because the entire construction and renovation projects on the Mount Zion campus was packaged together for the $20 million price tag.

Bringing outside programs in will start this spring as the indoor track season starts. There are plans to move the Decatur Area Indoor Invitational from the DISC to Mount Zion, and the Braves are looking to host a few other meets as well. Mose said there's already a lengthy list of schools looking to come to Macon County.

With the 200-meter track, it's an easy sell. No high school in the area has an indoor track of that size as it's something usually reserved for colleges and universities. Most high schools have indoor tracks around 165 meters, giving runners the feeling they are constantly turning.

Mount Zion wants to open their newest project up to the community as well. Mose and Roundcount said they plan to open the field house doors at certain times for those that want to walk a track with a roof overhead. Mount Zion used to have the outdoor track available for the public, but that changed after the turf was installed last year.

The basketball courts will be available during the open track hours to give children of visiting parents another exercise option.

"I don't know how much better (the field house) will make our teams," Roundcount said. "But I think the field house will encourage participation and give athletic opportunities."

They're hoping it's a selling point for new families who move into the area as well.

"And I think now -- Maroa's got a brand new school, but it's a small school. They got turf, now we have turf and now we have this huge field house, huge auditorium and the school's still in good shape," Mose said. "I think it's a huge advantage when parents pull in this parking lot. They're going to go, 'Wow!'

"I had all the ADs -- we hosted an Apollo Conference meeting in May -- and all the ADs wanted to walk in there. There wasn't a whole lot done then, but they're going, 'This is unbelievable.' "

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for the Herald & Review.

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