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HHS, St. Cloud to play in first-ever outdoor hardwood hoops game at Austin-Tindall

Posted on Friday, December 1, 2017 at 5:02 pm

Harmony Coach Ben Bartlett (left) and St. Cloud’s Jeff Bean, with Austin-Tindall Facility Manager Jeff Kuenzli serving as a de facto referee, what the start of the Feb. 3 outdoor basketball game may look like.
News-Gazette Photo/Ken Jackson

By Ken Jackson
Sports Editor

Austin-Tindall Sports Complex, the county owned-and-operated facility, has carved out a name in its industry hosting regional and national tournaments in sports like football, soccer and lacrosse – understandably, all outdoor sports.

In February, park officials will prove they can even do indoor sports outdoors.

Wednesday, they announced that Harmony and St. Cloud high schools will play their rivalry boys basketball game Feb. 3 on a regulation synthetic wood floor, just like those found inside basketball gyms, outside on Field 4 at the complex northeast of Kissimmee on Boggy Creek Road. Varsity teams will square off at 2:30 p.m. in the Hardwood Court Classic Presented by the Greater Osceola United Soccer Club. Freshman and junior varsity teams will play earlier in the day.

According to Austin-Tindall Facility Manager Jeff Kuenzli, who is also overseeing a $10.7 million expansion project at the park, the game is the first-ever sanctioned high-school basketball game on a wood court outdoors.

“We’re adding to our foundation of great events,” he said. “The only outdoor games we can find in our research were on asphalt courts in California.”

But, coaches and school administrators don’t want players running and diving on asphalt outdoors. Park staff will put down a plywood base to level the surface, and put the wood floor on top of that.

“We intend for this to be successful,” Kuenzli said. “Osceola County owns seven portable hardwood courts. If this comes off like we expect, in the future I have no problem putting all seven down and having a great day-long event. We do this to build memories.”

Weather will dictate a lot. If there is rain, temperatures below 50 degrees or winds over 20 miles per hour, the game will be moved back to the Harmony High gym at 7 p.m. that day, as originally scheduled.

Harmony is giving up a home date to play at Austin-Tindall, 18 miles away from campus, and Longhorns Coach Ben Bartlett admits the program is taking a risk with the outdoor game.

“But with a sponsor helping out we’re guaranteeing ourselves a good gate. If we market this well we should get a bigger crowd than we would in our own gym,” he said. “John Wallauer came to us in his first meeting as our Athletic Director and said, ‘I want to do some things that haven’t been done before,’ and we came up with this idea, and there’s been a lot of backing. It’s a big deal for a school and park to let our kids play outdoors, and it gives our community something to look forward to. Pending the weather it’s going to be a great event and we’re excited for the opportunity.”

St. Cloud Coach Jeff Bean said he was on board instantly when the idea reached him.

“What a great idea for the kids and the rivalry, and we’ll get to showcase our teams to people who might not normally get to see us play,” he said. “It should be a packed house, it always is when we play, so we’re expecting a really big crowd.”

Osceola County Athletic Director Ryan Adams called the opportunity “unique and exciting”.

“It’s a great new idea, we just have to make sure we’re putting the players in a position to be safe,” he said. “These players will be able to say they were the first ever to do this, which is exciting. We just hope it turns out to be an exciting game you hope a rivalry would to excite the fans who come to enjoy a game in a unique atmosphere. It this goes as well as we plan, maybe it will be an annual event.”

The event logo and ticket prices will be announced by Austin-Tindall in the coming weeks. Feb. 3 is the day before Super Bowl LII.