By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Elder High School alumni have begun work on a new 45-acre athletic complex, until now just a dream for the West Side prep sports powerhouse.
The site, less than a mile northeast of Elder's landlocked 10-acre Price Hill campus off Quebec Road, will be named the Panther Athletic Complex. Included will be two football practice fields, competition and practice fields for the baseball and soccer teams, an eight-lane running track, four tennis courts, a walking path, picnic grove, concessions, restrooms and plenty of parking.
"The new complex is really a beautiful piece of property," said Dave Dabbelt, Elder athletic director. "It will enable us to get a lot of things closer to campus."
Work began in August, with heavily wooded areas to be cleared. Construction could take several years, depending on the raising of an estimated $1 million to $2 million.
The project is being managed entirely by an alumni group known as the Panther Athletic Complex Fund, chaired by 1972 Elder graduate Mike McKenna.
Elder has won 22 state championships in various sports, including its first Ohio Division I football title in 2002. But its practice facilities have been scattered throughout the west side.
The baseball team has played at Hille Field in Northside, football practices are at three sites including Dunham Recreation Complex, track practices are at Oak Hills High School, and the soccer team plays at a facility just off River Road near the Indiana border.
Home football games will remain at the famous "Pit" on campus, as will home basketball games in the campus gymnasium (also nicknamed the Pit).
Elder head football coach Doug Ramsey directs his charges during a practice at the Dunham Recreation Center fields.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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The new complex will be accessible from Quebec Road and sits just less than a mile northeast of the Elder campus. Facing north on Glenway, it is a short walk east, then a left turn down the hill on Quebec. A sign on Quebec Road will go up shortly to announce the location.
McKenna said the complex would be built as funds are raised. First will be practice fields for football, baseball and soccer, along with the baseball game field. After that, work will begin on the track and soccer game field and tennis courts.
If fund raising is successful, McKenna said, the complex could be completed in about two years.
McKenna and his brother Dan McKenna, a 1966 Elder graduate, are trustees of the Panther Athletic Complex Fund with 1971 grad Jim Daffin and 1974 grads Dennis Berning, Mark Jansen and Jim Jansing.
Mike McKenna is vice president of Harrison-based F&M Mafco, a major construction supplier. McKenna said the Elder project has been in the making since last year, beginning with a gift of land from an Elder family he did not name.
"As we started investigating surrounding parcels, we found that many of them were owned by other Elder people who were willing to donate them or sell at a friendly price," McKenna said.
Although school officials long ago identified the need for an athletic complex, the entire project is being managed by alumni. When the facilities are completed they will be deeded over to the school.
Alumni are being asked to help raise the money to complete the project. With Elder recently having completed a major renovation of its academic space, Dan McKenna said the the alumni group decided to take on the athletic project itself.
"It was not feasible for the school to take on this project at this time, so we did what needed to be done," McKenna said.
"Elder pride, to be the best, is not just lip service."
Thomas Otten, Elder principal, said the complex is another example of Elder's tight-knit community banding together.
"Throughout Elder's history, our graduates have risen to the occasion time and time again," Otten said.
"However, last year a group of alumni took the process one step further. They saw a need, with which we wholeheartedly agree ... and came to us with not just the willingness to assist, but to actually take on the project themselves."
Senior quarterback Rob Florian, said the football team is used to piling into cars and driving 2 miles to practice at Dunham. The new complex will put the practice facilities closer to campus, although a drive might still be needed.
"I was actually thinking the other day about how nice it would be not to have to drive down to Dunham," Florian said.
"There's no substitute for the Pit as far as games, but I'm thinking the new complex will be especially nice for sports like soccer and baseball, where they won't have to drive so far."
Soccer coach Dave Ruehl said the team drives about 20 minutes to its facility on Valley Junction Road, just off River Road. Valley Junction doesn't have grandstands or other amenities many schools have for soccer.
"We'll have more parking, better stands, and it will be closer," Ruehl said.
"Actually a lot of our kids live closer to Valley Junction right now, so it's a wash as far as the drive. But as far as facilities in one place, the new complex should have it all."
At a glance
Elder High School alumni have begun work on a new sports facility, the Panther Athletic Complex. The facility will be located 8/10ths of a mile northeast of the school, off Quebec Road.
The facility will require between $1 million and $2 million in alumni donations and will include:
Two football practice fields
Competition and practice fields for baseball and soccer
An eight-lane running track
Four tennis courts
Walking path, picnic grove, concessions, restrooms and parking.
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