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story.lead_photo.caption Visitors make their way around the new Poyen Sports Complex during a special grand opening Nov. 30. Poyen School District Superintendent Jerry Newton, said the new gym cost approximately $5.8 million. - Photo by William Harvey

POYEN — On the first day of school this fall, head girls basketball coach and athletic director Mickey Shaffer asked his girls to pick up their chairs and load up the bus. The team then took a surprise trip to the new Poyen Sports Complex and sat in the unfinished senior high locker room.

“As we were loading up, they were wondering what was going on,” Shaffer said, “but when we got here, that seemed to be really motivational.”

The Indians and the Lady Indians opened basketball season Dec. 1 in their new gym.

“To the whole community, it is just really going to be a focal point, a proud thing,” Shaffer said during an open-house event Nov. 30.

“This has been a basketball school for years, and I just think this is something a lot of people are going to take pride in and enjoy.”

Poyen School District Superintendent Jerry Newton said he has been so pleased with the community and its continued support for the new gym.

“Our community has always been super supportive of everything and anything we have asked them to do,” Newton said. “We have had three millage increases pass since I’ve been here, with more than 70 percent of the vote”

Newton said Poyen draws students not only from Poyen, but also from Prattsville and Leola.

“And our school is the center of that community,” he said. “Those three towns are extremely excited about it. If we have any kind of event — anything we have — they fill up the stands.

“Our people support our kids wholeheartedly. That’s one of the things that has kept me at Poyen for this many years. It is the super-great community support that we have.”

Newton, who has served as superintendent for 42 years, said Poyen built a new high school about 10 years ago and a new elementary school about eight years ago. He is set to retire on June 30 of next year, and his replacement, Ronnie Kissire, has already been named.

“Now we have built a new gymnasium,” Newton said. “We are just very pleased with our community.”

He said because the school district and its board members had enough foresight to save money for the gym, the district did not have to ask for another millage increase to pay for the approximately $5.8 million gym.

“We saved up for it,” Newton said. “Along with the partnership money with the state, we were able to build [the gym] and not put our community in any kind of debt.”

The new gym includes a weight room and locker rooms for both senior high boys and girls, as well as junior high girls and boys. The gym has facilities and a locker room for officials, as well as a hospitality room. Shaffer said the eventual goal is to host district and regional tournaments.

Newton said that over the course of the past 20 years, school board members have set aside funds for the new gym.

“Because my board over the years has had such great foresight and our long range goal was to build this building, we had about $2 million saved that we were able to put toward the building,” Newton said. “The biggest hurdle or challenge was just getting approval from the state.”

Newton said that during the ceremony between games Dec. 1., all former and current school board members were honored.

“We are going to honor all of them for the things they have done the past 20 or 25 years to help make this building possible,” Newton said.

Shaffer, who has been with the school district for 19 years, said it was time for an upgrade.

“Since I have been here, we have had four new floors put in because of flooding, and we had a lot of dead spots [on the court],” Shaffer said. “It was just time.”

Shaffer said the old gym can hold approximately 600 people. He said his main goal when the project started was to get a gym that could seat 1,500 people, “yet still feel like it had a small and loud atmosphere,” Shaffer said. “And I think we got pretty close to doing that.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or

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