The first time Paul Bryant saw the new home of Edward Waters indoor sports, he knew his dreams were coming true.
“I was just in awe,” the EWU athletic director said.
The Jungle is ready.
Swirled with orange and purple from baseline to baseline, Edward Waters University officially cut the ribbon on its new gymnasium floor on Friday during a ceremony inside the Adams-Jenkins Community Sports & Music Complex.
The latest step in the HBCU’s growth to NCAA status took shape with a boldly-colored Jacksonville design, shaped into reality in a project by Illinois-based contractor Connor Sports.
Catching the eye
If EWU’s goal for the floor was to make a fashion statement on hardwood, there’s no doubt the mission was a success.
Designed in orange with slashes of purple in a tiger-striped pattern, the court makes an instant impact on the eyes. Bryant credited J. Allen Walker, the university’s director of creative services and graphic design, with the idea.
The message in front of each sideline in the home of the Tigers’ new home? Welcome to the Jungle.
EWU president A. Zachary Faison Jr. said the new court helps to establish an identity for Edward Waters athletics.
“We want this place to be a proverbial jungle,” Faison said. “When opposing teams come into this venue, they know they’re entering a jungle-like environment where it’s going to be intimidating, and certainly supportive for the student-athletes here.”
Continuing the climb
The new project is the latest step in a series of moves aiming to build the profile of EWU athletics, which moved into NCAA Division II during the summer.
The gym renovation follows last fall’s opening of the Nathaniel Glover Community Field and Stadium as the latest in a series of facility upgrades for EWU.
The football venue became a reality some four years after the city authorized $4.4 million toward a new community athletic field in July 2017.
An exact dollar figure for the gym floor was not immediately available, although Faison estimated the cost at about a quarter of a million dollars.
More than just basketball
While the gym will be the featured venue for the Tigers’ men’s and women’s basketball programs, hoops — the men finished 16-12 last season, while the women went 17-12 — will make up only one part of the action.
The honor of the first competitive match in the gym belongs to the EWU men’s volleyball team, among only a small number of teams in the sport in the Southeast.
The renovated gym will also be the home of the Tigers’ women’s volleyball squad, which won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference championship last fall to earn a berth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament.
Wait finally ends
The new court ends a four-month wait for EWU’s indoor sports to return to a home court.
Faison said the university initially targeted a completion date before the end the basketball season, but supply chain difficulties stemming from the coronavirus pandemic delayed the grand opening until April 1.
During renovations, EWU hoops played several of its games at a secondary site on the campus, using the James Weldon Johnson Auxiliary Gymnasium as its main alternate court. Other events took place off-site, at locations like Florida State College at Jacksonville’s South Campus or the Jacksonville Juniors Volleyball Association.
The men’s volleyball squad gets the first shot on the new surface, beginning with Friday night’s home game against Central State of Ohio and continuing at 1 p.m. Saturday against Kentucky State.
“When I saw it on paper, and then I held the paper to the window because I couldn’t go on the floor to see it, I said, ‘This is exactly what we wanted,'” Bryant said.
Opportunities down the road?
After this renovation, EWU officials are now hoping to show off the surface for a broader audience.
The school has served as the host for several conference tournaments within the last decade, including the GCAC basketball championships for men and women in 2019.
Faison also expressed optimism that the new court will aid EWU in recruiting, particularly citing the appeal to international athletes.
“We want to be at the forefront in terms of being able to recruit and retain the very best athletes in the world,” Faison said. “And we believe that this facility is the next step in us being able to do that.”