Monday, May 17, 1999

School to build $1.2M athletic facility

It's needed for recruiting, official says

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        VILLA HILLS — Nuns and a bishop picked up shovels and tore up dirt Sunday on the grounds of Villa Madonna Academy, making way for a new $1.2 million, multi-purpose athletic facility.

        It's another sign that parochial schools feel pressured to provide top-notch athletics — and not just academics — to maintain and boost their enrollments.

        “You've got to have good athletics,” said Mike Woods, athletic director at Villa Madonna, a ninth- through 12th-grade high school of about 130 students.

        “The old-timers didn't want to hear they needed to spend more money, but it's the truth.”

        Soon after Mr. Woods began heading Villa Madonna's athletic program four years ago, he urged school officials to build a new athletic facility or risk enrollment problems.

        Good schools are abundant in Northern Kentucky, he told them, and there was no way Villa Madonna could remain competitive without a new ath letic facility.

        School officials plunged ahead with a capital campaign after Mr. Woods went to a school board meeting with a movie video, Field of Dreams, stressed potential enrollment problems and told them “if you build it, they will come.”

        “This is great. This is like Christmas morning,” said Mr. Woods at Sunday's groundbreaking.

        Bill Goller, principal of Holy Cross District High School in Covington, agrees that athletics are crucial. The school offered a new football program last fall.

        The motivation behind the athletic program was student interest rather than slipping student enrollment, he said, noting that Holy Cross' student population has steadily increased over the last decade.

        But Mr. Goller acknowledged that having football as an extracurricular activity can only benefit the school.

        “In time, it will help,” he said.

        Villa Madonna was an all-girls school for 83 years before it began admitting boys in 1987 because of enrollment problems.

        About two years ago, school officials began working on a capital campaign to build

        the new, $1.2 million multi- purpose athletic facility, which will seat 550 sports fans and house the school's basketball and volleyball teams.

        The project is part of a $3.5 million endeavor that also will include extensive renovations to the existing school building.

        For example, Villa Madonna's present gym — on the school's sec ond floor and without permanent seating — will be converted into a theater, two classrooms and a music room.

        “This is serious business. We need hard hats. We want you to do some real work now,” said Villa Madonna's campaign co-chair Denny Hirt, who was poking fun at Sunday's ground-breaking.

        Bishop Robert Muench of the Diocese of Covington and Sister Victoria Eisenman, executive director of Villa Madonna, had just grabbed shovels to break ground near the school.

        Construction workers will gather there in about two weeks and spend until early 2000 completing the new athletic facility.

        “I truly believe that athletics is a big part of the academic environment,” said Dave Gish, athletic director of St. Henry High School in Elsmere.

        He added that “whether it's right or wrong,” athletics have been used as a recruiting tool. But he says that it's the academic programs that are the deciding factor in whether parents keep sending their children to any parochial school.

        Athletics are “a bit part of the whole school environment,” he said.


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