The Out-of-Door Academy is attempting to give its students needed facilities, so they can compete athletically in the same manner they do academically.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 29, the school unveiled new practice fields adjacent to the school's main buildings at 5400 Deer Drive, Lakewood Ranch. The three-acre space includes three regulation-sized soccer fields that can be transformed to fit football and lacrosse requirements.

Construction of restrooms and a concession stand at the fields will start in 30 to 45 days, according to ODA's Head of School David Mahler.

Ideas for the project began circulating in the ODA community approximately a year ago, Mahler said, but it started to become a reality nine months ago.

Previously, ODA sports teams were forced to practice late into the night because all the programs were sharing limited space. Dinner and homework was pushed back to late hours, Mahler said. The situation was untenable for everyone.

Mahler said the practice fields project will cost approximately $1 million once the restroom construction is finished, Mahler said.

Team buses, which used to park in front of the school, will now park next to the practice fields, clearing space in the school’s parking lot. 

There are also plans to build a field house, to be for ODA's indoor sports what the practice fields are for its outdoor sports. The field house is currently being funded by private donations.

Lucy Keber, an assistant girls lacrosse coach who has been with the program since its inception in 2011, said the fields will be exponentially more convenient than driving to Premier Sports Campus, where practice used to be held.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am from a coach’s perspective,” Keber said.

Nancy Castro, president of the Thunder Athletic Club, cut the ribbon. The fields were christened by a one-on-one battle between girls soccer sophomore forward Natalie Gorgi, and boys soccer senior goaltender Matteo Romano. Gorji sliced a penalty kick past Romano, and the crowd watching went wild.

The two teams, plus ODA’s middle school teams, then held normal practices — separately and simultaneously.

Players, including girls soccer senior Abby LaGasse, were impressed

“I’ve been playing for this program since seventh grade,” LaGasse said. “We’ve always had to juggle the scheduling and practice at different times. Having this (field) is amazing. It’s going to help so much, not having to split the field with the boys and having extra time.

“I feel like everything they do here (at ODA) is amazing. You don’t expect anything less, honestly.”

ODA’s athletic programs haven’t always followed in those “amazing” footsteps, though some individuals, like Maria Ross, who won both individual and doubles (with Mary Ann Rompf) girls tennis state titles in 2014, and Saraiah Walkes, who won three gold medals at the state track and field meet as an eighth grader in May, have seen success.

The school’s major programs haven’t. The football program won its first home playoff game in eight years on Oct. 27. The boys basketball team has one division championship, in 2003-2004, per its website. The baseball program has never made it to a regional final, and the softball program was inactive in 2014 because of a lack of interest before returning in 2015. 

ODA wants that to change. Mahler hopes the field house project will be completed in 2018, and sees both practice facilities as a rededication to making ODA athletics shine as bright as the rest of the school. 

“We feel like we have the premier athletic facilities in the area, for high schools,” Mahler said. “We wanted our kids to have premier practice facilities as well, so they can prepare for competition. It’s definitely an investment in the future of our athletic program.”

Article originally from Your Observer