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Sioux City's Bishop Heelan prepares to open new gymnasium
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The Pit’s replacement is ready

Sioux City's Bishop Heelan prepares to open new gymnasium

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SIOUX CITY -- When the Bishop Heelan Catholic High School junior varsity boy Crusaders face off against the Treynor (Iowa) Cardinals in basketball action at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the game will be the first one taking place in the new O'Gorman Fieldhouse.

Heelan is hosting an official ribbon cutting at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday to celebrate completion of the $3.7 million multipurpose venue.

O'Gorman Fieldhouse, which can be used for basketball and volleyball in addition to wrestling matches, replaces Heelan's 70-year-old former gymnasium, affectionately known as "The Pit."  

The third -- and final -- phase of the $32 million campaign in Heelan's new school construction, the gym was originally supposed to open last spring.

"The school's fine arts section opened in 2014 while the academic portion opened in 2018," Tom Betz, Heelan's vice president of advancement, explained. "Due to weather delays and some unanticipated costs, the gym took more time."

However, this may have worked to the school's advantage.

"The staggered schedule between each of the three phases allowed us to see what worked and what didn't," Betz said.

In the end, he is convinced that people will be dazzled by the gym's modern design, video scoreboards and better seating for fans.

"If we tried to fill every nook and cranny at The Pit, we could squeeze in 1,100 people, tops," Betz said. "The new facility can easily seat 1,600 people."

Another innovation is a top-loading gym, complete with a running track.

Betz said one of the drawbacks of The Pit was the claustrophobia of having fans on the floor along with the athletes. Having the running track on an upper level should eliminate that issue.

One thing that isn't changing is the length of the basketball court.

"The court at The Pit and the new court are both 94 feet long, which is collegiate-length and about 10 feet longer than a typical high school court," Betz said. "I don't know if that gives the Crusaders a natural advantage but it means opposing teams will be a bit more tired when they play here."

This is something Betz should know about. After all, he was Heelan's boys basketball coach from 2002 to 2015. 

"Over the past year or so, our players have experienced plenty of last time ever's at The Pit," he said. "They've experienced the final game to ever be played at The Pit as well as the final practice to be held at The Pit."

"It will seem positively surreal to actually be in the new facilities after such a long wait," Betz said. "That will be true for both the players and the fans."

Heelan athletic director Anthony Elias agreed with Betz.

"The kids would have to walk from their new school to the old gym every day, no matter the weather," he said. "Having an brand-new gym available in the same building will seem incredible."

So, what's been the most persistent question Betz has been asked?

"Why the heck is Heelan naming their gymnasium O'Gorman of all things," he noted with a chuckle.

"People automatically thought we were naming it after O'Gorman Catholic School in Sioux Falls, which is a big rival of Heelan," Betz continued. "Instead, our O'Gorman Fieldhouse is named after Mark O'Gorman, who is a 1991 Heelan graduate. Mark and his entire family have been extremely generous during this entire project."

And why is this gymnasium being called a "fieldhouse"?

"Actually, it is more of a multipurpose facility than it is a gym," Betz said. "We'll be able to host pep assemblies, show choir competitions and other programs here. Calling it a fieldhouse indicates that it is more than a place where sports are played."

Giving an advance tour of the O'Gorman Fieldhouse a few days prior to its grand opening, Betz acknowledged that many people will continue to have sentimental memories of The Pit.

"The Pit had been around since 1949 and I'm sure everyone has a story to tell," he said. "After 70 years, it has fulfilled its purpose."

Looking out onto the basketball court's gleaming hardwood floors and state-of-the-art scoreboard, Betz smiled.

"It won't be long before people will have happy memories made here as well," he said.

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