Designed to Compete
Born 2 Run Sports Complex
By Sutton R. Stokes
Sports—only a game? That may be true for some people, but it's not a statement you're likely to hear at the Born 2 Run Sports Complex, a unique youth athletic facility that opened in southwestern Pennsylvania last April.
"We're an organization that takes the business of sports and athletic training very seriously, competitively and professionally," says James Hoy, Born 2 Run operations director. "We are aimed at high-end athletes who are looking to play at the next level…The place was designed so that when a 16-year-old athlete walks through the door, they think, 'I'm in heaven.'"
Born 2 Run sits on 112 rolling acres outside the small town of Mercer, Pa., approximately equidistant from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Erie, Pa., and at the intersection of well-traveled Interstates 80 and 79. In the short time since the facility opened, student athletes from all over the United States and Canada have attended Born 2 Run's camps and league play in about a dozen different sports. Last summer—the complex's first in operation—was particularly busy, according to general manager Matt Barker.
"We held 20 different sessions of camps," Barker says. "That included boys' and girls' basketball camp, high-school team camps, volleyball camps, lacrosse camps, soccer, football…We averaged about 250 to 350 campers a week throughout the summer."
Fortunately, there was plenty of room for all of these student athletes in Born 2 Run's 25,000 square-foot dormitory, where there are bunks for 378 (in 10-person dormitory-style rooms) and an NFL-style locker for each guest.
But it's the playing facilities that are the centerpiece of the Born 2 Run complex. The flagship building is the 60,000-square-foot Dallas W. Hartmann Field House, which boasts four basketball courts, four volleyball courts, a wrestling room, a weight room, a 3,000-square-foot physical-therapy clinic and a licensed day-care facility with space for 96 children. Inline hockey is played in a separate 25,000-square-foot building. Outdoor play currently is limited to just one multipurpose field, but the plan is to open eight more by the end of 2005.
Inside the buildings, Born 2 Run affects a striking visual aesthetic. The indoor playing courts are patterned after urban playgrounds, with jet-black court surfaces, decorative chain-link fencing and lighting fixtures made to resemble street lights.
"The reason I [designed it that way] is because most of the playground basketball courts have been closed," explains Hoy, who says he's played some of the best games of his life on playground courts. "We've got a whole generation of kids coming up that don't know what it means to play pickup ball, [so we offer] opportunities for local kids to come in and play street ball."
Another unusual aspect of the indoor playing areas is the fact that parents and other spectators are not allowed to watch from courtside.
"Our whole facility is designed for the athlete first, and there is no seating near the playing areas," Hoy says. Instead, parents must watch from a second-story mezzanine area. The consolation, Hoy points out, is that "no matter where your kid plays, you have a bird's-eye view of the action." Hoy, a long-time high-school coach and sports-camp director, admits that concerns about aggressive or over-involved parents informed this aspect of the design "100 percent."
"We've all heard the nightmare stories about parents' behavior at athletic events," Hoy says. "We just want to create an environment…where the kids' experience comes first, not the parents'."
Another group of spectators who get a bird's-eye view of the action are the NCAA coaches Hoy brings through for periodic talent exhibitions. These mass scouting sessions are designed to help college coaches see the largest number of up-and-coming players in the shortest time possible, in order to avoid running afoul of NCAA restrictions on off-campus recruiting time. Hoy keeps his eye out for talented players during the many tournaments Born 2 Run hosts, then invites the top ones back to strut their stuff for the coaches.
NCAA coaches aren't the only taste of the big leagues offered to Born 2 Run participants. The complex already has attracted an impressive roster of professional athletes to help run various clinics and camps, and more are scheduled for the future. Lorrie Fair, a member of the 1999 Women's World Cup squad and the 2000 silver-medal U.S. Olympic team, directed a recent soccer camp, while Milwaukee Buck Mike James will offer his second point-guard camp in June 2005. Other guest instructors have included NFL players and Olympic competitors.
It's all part of what Hoy describes as the facility's commitment to helping young athletes improve and expand.
"If you come here on Sunday for a camp, Friday when you leave you're going to be better for having been here," Hoy says. "That's the business we're truly in."
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