The first thing that gets noticed about Germantown High School’s shiny new fieldhouse is the route you have to take to find it.
There’s lots to see and there is a very good chance you might find yourself pleasantly side-tracked before you get there.
You enter the old gym entrance, walk past that still busy sturdy, old facility and then thank the smiling staff member as he or she points you on the left-hand turn you need to take to find it.
Then before you get to the fieldhouse entrance, which is an imposing enough facade as it is, you cast an eye to the right and gaze at the real focal point of this vast, wonderful improvement project and at the real reason that still-new Athletic Director Sara Unertl is smiling so broadly.
It is the shiny new eight-lane pool, something the school has not had in over a decade. Something that district voters had said “No” to in the past but this time, with eyes firmly cast upon the future, decided to take the proverbial plunge on in the November 2016 referendum.
“This is such a great thing for the community,” Unertl said. “It belongs to everyone. The staff, the coaches, the advisors, the kids. People were ready for a change and they knew what new facilities could do for a community and district like ours.
“It’s just nice to get things in there to support kids.”
And Unertl appreciates it almost more than anyone else.
More than a decade ago and for three years, back when she went by the name Sara Petric, Unertl was coach of the Germantown girls swim team, which stubbornly clung to independence after the old school pool was torn down and filled in after falling into disrepair.
She has many memories of early, early in the morning and late, late at night practices when neighboring Homestead High School (her alma mater) and Schroeder Aquatic Center could best afford pool time and allow the Warhawks to take a turn.
The girls car-pooled to practice, worked hard and continued the record of success of Warhawks’ swim program founder Dick Zache, who had initially hired Petric as an assistant.
Because while the boys swim team co-oped (and successfully so) with Menomonee Falls and Sussex Hamilton, the girls decided to remain a determined, strong, separate entity, even though they could not host a meet or even leisurely host a practice.
In fact, in the weeks since the opening of the new facilities, made possible by the heartening approval of that $84 million district-wide improvement referendum in November 2016, many people on their way to the fieldhouse have made a lingering stop and gazed at the beautiful pool.
A pool, which will among other things, give that long-suffering girls swim team a chance, starting in August, to practice and compete without having to travel many miles or host a senior night meet in a place they can really call home.
Unertl eventually left Germantown for a career in administration, but the girls team still thrived under other coaches. When the Germantown AD’s job came open early last summer, an added incentive for her to vie and eventually earn the position was the thought of that shiny new pool that the referendum had OKed.
“I thought, what a great, great thing for those kids,” she said.
There have been several meetings to set up a workable schedule for the pool. Phys-ed classes will begin for the students in the fall, while an initial two-week round of summer swim lessons is already sold out.
The public got their first look at both the pool and the fieldhouse the weekend of Feb. 15-16 and Unertl was very pleased to let the swimmers on the Menomonee Falls/Germantown boys co-op team take a quick first warm-up dip on the morning of Feb. 16 before they headed off to the WIAA state meet in Madison later that day.
“There is just so much great stuff going on here,” she said. “This (Feb. 16) is just a special day for everyone.”
The $84 million dollar referendum provided a great many improvements for all the schools in the district. The high school got new classrooms, a performing arts center, a secure main entrance and new administrative offices as well as the aforementioned fieldhouse and pool.
Retired boys and girls hoops coach Dennis Kloth was there when history was made.
“I worked the polls that night (November 2016) and there was a major turnout in my ward and it’s a ward that I wasn’t sure would pass it (the referendum),” he said, “but we did the count and it wound up passing here by a little bit and it was then I felt ‘Hey, if it passes here, maybe it will pass (district-wide)!'”
And he was right.
The fieldhouse, which is modeled after a similar and very successful one put up not too long ago at nearby Brown Deer High School, has a wonderful facade which includes trophy cases already loaded down with much of the Warhawks’ storied state championship hardware and a large, well-stocked concession stand.
Once in, people will find lots and lots of space, spacious stands festooned with Germantown logos and a four-lane track, which was very helpful to the boys and girls track teams in the cold March weather.
But it was on that Feb. 16 morning that the Germantown girls basketball team became the first to officially use the court that is the centerpiece of the fieldhouse.
The 11 a.m. tip and subsequent 75-38 victory over Wauwatosa West was a perfect christening for the court. It was the regular season closer for Germantown and also clinched the Warhawks first Greater Metro Conference title.
They did it up in fine fashion, as they scored the first 29 points of the new court’s history as Natalie Palzkill got the first points on a pair of free throws, Amber Ische got the first field goal (a 3-pointer) and Palzkill got the first two-point basket.
Afterward, they cut down a set of still new nets to celebrate their title, with coach Matt Stuve and Unertl getting the final celebratory snips.
But the players, for whom this was built, also got their share of this moment, as everyone on the team got a piece of net and then a few shared their thoughts afterward.
“It was the first game here, we were so fired up for this,” said all-state guard Natalie McNeal. “It’s a new era for Germantown sports and it was great to celebrate a title in the first game we played.
“We were really anticipating this, We knew it would take awhile (to build) and we were really anxious for it to open up.
“But then we got the walk-through today and we saw that it was really something. Really very special. We know how lucky we are.”
“We were so excited,” said junior guard Amber Ische, “and the energy was amazing when we got in here. We knew we had to put on a good show for everybody and make everyone proud.”
Stuve, whose team won two WIAA regional games on the court before ending its excellent season in sectional play, was just honored that it was his squad that had the chance to be the first.
“A pretty nice way to break the new building in wouldn’t you say?” he said with a smile. “So many people made this happen. Event staff, the administration, the coaches and the kids. A lot of work had to be done in the last few days to make this happen.
“I wanted the kids to pay attention to detail. I wanted them to be sharp, but I told them to remember this, because it’s a pretty awesome moment. Have some fun with it.”
Members of the boys staff, old and new, were also on hand, to see this moment through.
Kloth couldn’t stop smiling all day.
“This is pretty nice,” he said. “I’m just as proud as can be. This is doing so much for all the schools in the district and that will be great for everyone.”
All sports will benefit from the new facilities, said Kloth. The basketball courts at the elementary schools are also getting an upgrade and the fieldhouse will be a great help for the youth hoop programs as up to six teams can practice at a time.
The plan, said Unertl, is to have as many people in the building as possible as soon as possible to see what their tax dollars purchased.
“People are coming in everyday and they have been very complimentary,” said Unertl. “We all want to put this great building to use. You look around and the feel is all so very positive, that this was done right. It’s very neat, very special.”
Third-year boys coach Steve Martin was there for the girls basketball game on that opening day of Feb. 16 with his kids. He was eager for the opportunity to use the new court and his team would win its inaugural game in the fieldhouse with a stunning upset of eventual WIAA state D1 champion Brookfield Central on Feb. 21.
He was appreciative for all the work that was done to make this possible and especially to the people who financially made it possible.
“This is terrific,” Martin said. “Our guys got about a half-hour shoot-around (before the girls game) and they had so much fun. It’s great to have a new home. We were glad for our old one, because there are so many great memories there.
“But this is such an amazing facility. We’re just so grateful to the school board and the school district and especially the taxpayers for getting this all done.