HomeNewsFieldhouse opening marks another first as JCM progresses from its rebirth

Fieldhouse opening marks another first as JCM progresses from its rebirth

The night didn’t end well for the home team in the final game as Jackson Central-Merry fell to North Side, 87-42.

But the earlier game had a positive outcome for the home school as the Lady Cougars handed the Lady Indians a 47-20 defeat.

And the underlying theme of the night was it was the first home basketball games for the Cougar basketball programs in the new JCM Fieldhouse, a state of the art facility that was built for the athletic teams along with the renovation of the school that ushered the school’s rebirth.

“It’s great to have our own place to call home and to play our home games in,” said Lady Cougars coach Brian Lake after his team’s victory. “We’ve been waiting on this, and we’ve been working hard to build the foundation for this program, and we’re starting to see that athletically with the team.

“But to have this officially as our home feels like we finally came home tonight.”

JCM boys’ coach Kendall Dancy knows what a championship program looks like, as he guided his alma mater Haywood to the Class AA state championship in 2015.

“We’re in the beginning stages of that building process now, but we’re getting there,” Dancy said. “And this is something that could motivate the players for both teams because it shows that the district cares about the program and has high hopes for it, and we should have high hopes or expectations for ourselves.

“Things didn’t work out the way we wanted them to tonight, but we’re a work in progress and it’s very early in the season.”

JCM was shut down in the spring of 2016 to the dismay of the community JCM alumni and the East Jackson neighborhood.

For years, there was a groundswell of support from the alumni to advocate publicly for the return of the school, which had historical significance in Jackson as it was JCM’s opening in 1970 that signaled the end of segregated schools in Jackson.

But it had nostalgic significance as many of the leaders in Jackson and Madison County received their high school diploma walking across JCM’s stage.

The darkness that was the tunnel of the shutdown of JCM began to have a speck of light appear in the distance in 2018 when then-Jackson-Madison County School Board member Morris Merriweather and then-JMCSS Superintendent Eric Jones worked out a deal that would not only result in the construction of a new building for nearby Madison Academic High School on the campus of the University of Memphis at Lambuth, but also a renovation of the barely-used building that once housed JCM to bring it back as a middle and high school.

Jones contacted local construction developer Hal Crocker, the owner of HCB Development who’d recently had success with a public-private partnership that resulted in the construction of Jackson Walk in Downtown Jackson, to discuss the possibility of a similar partnership to build two new schools in Midtown.

It took nearly two years of debate, discussion and approval by the JMCSS Board, Madison County Commission and Jackson City Council on multiple occasions to get it done as all three entities partnered with Healthy Communities, LLC, to approve the schools got built.

“We partnered with Henry Turley, who’s been a community developer in Memphis for years, to do the work that resulted in Jackson Walk,” Crocker said. “And we wanted to do more work that would hopefully have a similar effect in other parts of the city.

“And Henry always said if you want to see a neighborhood transform, you’ve got to start with schools. So when Eric called, we felt that was a great time to try that.”

The work for both of those projects broke ground in April of 2020, and classes began for both schools in their current location in August of 2021.

Supply chain issues delayed JCM’s opening a couple months, and because the bleachers didn’t come in until right at the end of basketball season in early 2022, the Cougars officially opened the Fieldhouse on Nov. 22, 2022.

Crocker and Chris Alexander, the vice president of development at HCB Development, were at the Fieldhouse to watch the games last week.

“We enjoy going to events at both JCM and Madison if for nothing else but just to see almost the fruition of the work we put in the last few years to get this to happen,” Crocker said. “And it was a fun atmosphere to be a part of as both sides of the gym seemed genuinely glad to be there watching basketball at JCM like we were.”

The gym was nearly full by halftime of the girls’ game and nearly every seat in the bleachers were taken when the boys tipped off.

While neither game came down to the final possession of the fourth quarter, the fans in the stands and cheerleaders on the baseline made sure they had some fun with crowd-sized cheers directed at each other while the players on the court went at each other while grabbing rebounds and dunking basketballs.

“It sounded like everyone was having fun while we were out there playing, and that’s what you want, right?” Dancy said. “But we’ll get better and make sure our fans are watching us compete and win. We’re young. We’ll get there with time and work.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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