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JMH Athletic Annex at Franklin College offers new fitness spaces for students

Inside the new Johnson Memorial Health Athletic Annex on the south end of Franklin College’s campus, baseball players practiced hitting in a couple of the six rows of batting cages, separated by retractable netting.

Nearby, a simulator showed batters where the balls they hit would land in Boston’s Fenway Park.

It’s a far cry from what the ballplayers were limited to last year, Franklin College President Kerry Prather said.

“We had one batting cage in the old gym,” he said.

Athletes and coaches can use the cages for baseball, softball and golf, and when the retractable nets are pulled back, practices that require undivided playing surfaces, such as soccer and lacrosse, can take place on the artificial turf.

Administrators from Franklin College and Johnson Memorial Health, along with alumnus Tom Allen Sr., student-athletes and friends of the college gathered at the school Tuesday to mark the dedication and opening of the new $1.5 million, 10,819 square-foot building. Johnson Memorial Health donated $1 million for the facility, with Indiana University head football coach Tom Allen Jr. donating funding for the attached Tom Allen Weight Room.

The facility opened about a year after the groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 13, 2021.

While the annex’s multipurpose practice area will pay dividends for some of the school’s 21 athletic teams, the weight room will have benefits for both athletes and students who don’t play organized sports, Prather said.

The 1,481 square-foot weight room, about the same size as the one at the college’s Spurlock Center, contains seven racks, along with bars and free weights, effectively doubling the college’s strength training space.

“It makes it so much easier to schedule athletic teams and athletes who just want to go lift,” Prather said. “The problem for us is so many non-athletes have fitness routines but it’s hard for them to get in because there’s so many athletes. That kind of free-lifting will be so much easier.”

The six batting cages can be divided in half with additional netting, creating up to 12 separate spaces if necessary. The athletic annex will give athletes more practice time and make those practices more efficient, said Lance Marshall, the college’s head baseball coach and assistant athletic director.

“It’s a lot of space. Teams will get through practices quicker and more efficiently, but also have cutting-edge equipment and a facility to develop in, practice in and prepare for the season,” Marshall said. “It’s fantastic, it’s already benefiting so many of our students. Athletes are putting in hours and hours of work and having a great time and it means so much these days in terms of recruiting athletically.”

The Johnson Memorial Health $1 million donation goes beyond a partnership between two Franklin institutions. David Dunkle, the hospital’s CEO and president, has known Prather since 1990, when Dunkle was a member of the Franklin College men’s basketball team Prather was coaching.

The facility will help improve student health and start what Dunkle hopes is a long-lasting relationship between those students and the college and city.

“We’re committed to improving the health of the communities we serve and Franklin College is an important part of those communities,” Dunkle said. “We value our partnership with the college. Many of the students of the college will live, work and play here and it’s important for us to foster relationships early and emphasize the importance of health and well-being. Exercise improves mental health as well as overall health. This was a great opportunity for Johnson Memorial Health to partner with Franklin College to better provide an opportunity for its students and student-athletes.”

The building is the first indoor athletic facility to open at Franklin College since the Spurlock Center in 1975, which hosts games for the college’s basketball and volleyball teams.

Allen Sr. was a member of the Franklin College football team in 1958, and persuaded football coach Stewart “Red” Faught to include weight training equipment in The Barn, now known as the Fitness Center. When the Allen family heard of the new project, Allen Jr., who makes an average salary of $4.9 million a year leading the Hoosiers football team, decided to fund its weight room.

Allen Sr. said he was honored the weight room is dedicated to him and his family.

“It’s very humbling and I didn’t feel like I deserved it, but that’s what they did. I really appreciate it and I hope the facility encourages boys and girls to use it and grow with it and have fun,” Allen Sr. said.

Allen Sr. has stayed connected to the school throughout the years because of its community atmosphere, he said.

“I liked the school because it wasn’t too big, it had a good family atmosphere and I knew almost everybody,” Allen Sr. said. “It gives you a chance to put some effort into your dreams and gives you a chance to grow.”

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