Local dignitaries gathered on Thursday morning for a ribbon cutting ceremony for the long-awaited field house at Raymond James Stadium on the campus of East Ridge High School.
Football coach Tim James used a pair of giant scissors to cut the ceremonial ribbon to the $1 million field house adjacent to the stands.
“Let all who enter …” Coach James began before pausing as he was overcome with emotion. “Well, you know the rest.”
When James paused, Candace Bell, a member of the East Ridge Alumni and Supporters Association, stood and asked those in attendance; “how proud would Sharon and Raymond James be of their son right now?”
What James finally choked out as he regained his composure was, “enter with pride.”
One theme brought forward by the speakers prior to the ribbon cutting was that the field house was a product of the public sector teaming with private citizens to provide a facility for the student athletes of the community.
James recited a litany of people who volunteered time, expertise and money to make the field house a reality. He singled out one man in particular: Johnny Jones.
James said that he had a telephone conversation with Jones regarding the facility and Jones asked him what he needed? “I need a weight room,” James told Jones, a long-time supporter of the East Ridge football program.
James said that Jones financed everything inside the enormous weight room that will be named “Johnny Jones Strength and Conditioning Center” in Jones’ honor.
James was quick to note that Jones was joined in his support for the field house effort by many, many people from the community. “This was a community effort and I love each and every one of you.”
The weight room in the field house is just one of the features of the building. It also contains a beautiful locker room, showers, coaches offices, and a training room.
The field house was needed as a result of the City of East Ridge condemning the concrete stands at Raymond James Stadium in August 2015. The coaches offices and locker room was housed under the 50-year-old crumbling stands.
Hamilton County Schools shouldered the burden of building new aluminum bleachers in October of 2016, but a field house was not in the plans. The City of East Ridge took possession of the athletic fields and property in 2017 with the intent of building a new field house. That effort ultimately stalled.
In early 2019 the City of East Ridge returned ownership of the property to Hamilton County Schools.
School Board Chairman Tucker McClendon, who James said was “instrumental in making this happen,” was contacted by James four days after he was elected to the school board. James was asking for help in the new field house.
“Four years later we got this,” McClendon told those gathered for the ribbon cutting. “This building will go a long way for our student athletes.
“The alumni association poured their hearts and souls into this,” McClendon added.
Hamilton County School Superintendent Justin Robertson praised James for his persistence in keeping the need for a field house at Raymond James Stadium front and center.
“This would not have happened but for the tenaciousness of Tim James,” Robertson said. “This is also an example of a public/private partnership. The community really stepped up.”