Home games for the basketball and volleyball teams at Wake Tech Community College used to mean loading equipment onto buses and traveling off campus.
The state's second-largest community college didn't have a gymnasium of its own, so the men's and women's basketball squads played at Southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. The volleyball team played at Wake Christian Academy.
But after a $4 million construction project, the teams finally have a true home-court advantage. Wake Tech renovated its early-childhood education building and added a new 1,200-seat gymnasium on its main campus off U.S. 401 south of Raleigh.
The school's volleyball team played its first official game on the court Friday afternoon against a team from Sandhills Community College. Dozens of fans cheered on the Eagles from blue-and-gold bleachers as their team won, 3-0.
"We're really excited to have a place to call home," said Barry Street, the school's athletic director.
Sports teams are only a few years old at Wake Tech. In 2007, members of the school's student government approached the college about forming an athletics program. Soccer and volleyball kicked off in August 2008. The program has grown to include a dozen sports, including baseball, softball and cross country.
The new gymnasium comes during a time of major growth at Wake Tech. Nearly 20,000 students are enrolled this semester, about 2,000 more than the school had last fall.
More and more recent high school graduates are opting for community colleges instead of four-year schools, partly because they are cheaper.
Wake Tech doesn't have dormitories or some other typical college staples. But sports can bring a sense of pride that exists at larger colleges.
"(Students) still want that traditional college feel," Street said.
Some student-athletes turn to community colleges to boost their grades and hone their athletic skills in hopes of moving on to sports teams at bigger schools.
Juan Young, 19, is a member of Wake Tech's basketball team, but he has big dreams of playing ball at a university.
Young, a native of Chatham County, said he hopes to bring his grades up. He sees his time at Wake Tech as a training ground.
"We want to get a feel for what it's like when we go to a four-year (university)," Young said. "It's a big transition."
Like most members of the basketball team, Young was recruited by Wake Tech.
A shiny new athletic facility might lure more athletes to choose the school, said Van Williams, the men's basketball coach.
Last spring, about 50 students tried out for about 15 spots on the team.
Williams said he hopes the gym will have another advantage: attendance at games. When the team played at the seminary, he said, about 150 people would show up. Since the new facility is on the main campus, he said, maybe more students and faculty members will stop by.
"We're definitely proud to have it," Williams said of the gym. "It's going to make things a lot easier."
Wake Tech would like to expand its athletic facilities, Street said. Fields for soccer, baseball and softball would be ideal. Those teams now play in Cary.
But on Friday, the volleyball team enjoyed its new space.
"It feels good to come into a nice, clean, good-looking gym," said Brittyana Will, 18.
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