Gator Dome takes new bite out of sports landscape | Full-Court Press

Decatur High School boys soccer coach Brad Plemons literally spoke his words into existence.

That seems to be the thing to do in sports these days.

Only Plemons’ words came in the confines of a damp, soggy officials locker room in early April at Federal Way Memorial Stadium when he said, “We want to change the culture at Decatur High School.”

What he meant was he wanted the boys soccer program to play a key role in changing the community’s perception that Decatur is “not a sports school.” At just past the midway point in their season, Plemons had no idea the Gators would make such a memorable postseason run into the state tournament.

Plemons’ words from four months ago took another step toward becoming realityon June 28 as Decatur unveiled a new Golden Gators mural above the student section of the city’s newest high school gym. It includes a long-tailed gator tearing through the wall with “Golden” to its right and “Gators” to its left.

On the surface, yes. It looks like Decatur athletics and first-year Athletic Director Annette Duvall, who is now going into her second year, are finding their stride.

The challenge from day one was just getting the Gator Dome a much-needed remodel after some teams spent all of 2015 playing home games at Todd Beamer High School because Decatur’s gym was deemed unsafe by state officials. The remodel was approved on April 26, 2016, and the new floor, with a vented base to allow airflow, was laid down. Blue-and-gold bleachers, brighter lighting and a retractable wall for volleyball matches to stop loose balls were also added.

The total cost of the renovation was approximately $1.1 million.

It was money well spent.

It is a gorgeous facility, and the lighting alone makes it an incredibly attractive venue for sporting events.

Decatur indoor coaches all said the same thing this pass fall: “We need a facility that our students and staff actually want to go to and can be proud of.”

The biggest complaint among Gator coaches pre-2016 was that its home-court advantage proved to be more of a disadvantage because no one wanted to step foot in the old gym.

If the 2016-17 season showed anything, it was that the new, cozy confines of the Gator Dome are drawing people back. Students and staff have responded to the new athletic gem on campus.

It never sold out this past year, with the exception of the first Decatur home game of the season on Sept. 21, when girls volleyball hosted Kentlake.

But more and more people showed up as the year went on.

The latest addition of decor inside the Gator Dome is sure to draw attention. It certainly increases the home team-advantage feel they’ve lacked for quite some time.

The design of the mural speaks to the reputation and culture Plemons helped to create.

“We have to show other schools we’re not the door mat, push-over school of years past. That’s an important element of changing a culture,” he said.

Plemons is right.

In this case, the Gator Dome remodel last April and now the addition of this colorful, inspiring mural are one part of the equation.

The other is the product. The product on the floor needs to be as impressive as the floor, walls and lights that surround it.

The Eagles Nest at Federal Way has not had an upgrade for a very long time. Yet, the stands are packed night in and night out.

While it does not come close to providing the ambiance the Gator Dome does, the wins simply ooze out of that building.

Decatur supporters and alumni should be forming lines that reach 320th Street to get a glimpse of how great this gym is.

It might be my favorite place in the city, period. But the product on the floor has to give the Decatur faithful a viable reason to go and bask in its presence.

Brad Plemons spoke about his desire for boys soccer to be at the forefront of a Decatur culture change before the boys soccer team took a giant leap in changing it with a playoff run.

He literally spoke it into existence.

This new gator above the student section says a lot about where the Gator sports program is headed. Time will tell if it carries it to fruition.

Jerod Young is the sports reporter for the Mirror. He can be reached at jyoung@federalwaymirror.com.

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