After nearly two decades of practices in borrowed space and games far away, Lift for Life Academy held its first home sporting event Wednesday.
“This is a huge deal for us. We’ve been waiting — gosh, since we opened we’ve wanted a gym,” said the high school girls’ volleyball coach Tommy Devitt.
Lift for Life, with grades six through 12, is St. Louis’ oldest charter school. Opened in 2000 in the Kosciusko neighborhood, the school finally has a home court following a $1.1 million fundraising effort.
Charter schools — which are independent public schools — receive state funding but no support for facilities. Many, like Lift for Life, operate in former commercial spaces that don’t have typical school amenities such as a gym. Lift for Life’s original building, for instance, is an old bank. The school has since expanded into buildings next door and across the street.
Until now, the school’s sports teams had to travel off campus for practices and for every game of the season with only the most dedicated family members making the trip to cheer them on.
“We’ve been playing all these games and no one ever has seen these girls play,” said Devitt, who also teaches 7th grade. “No one comes to our game against North County Christian School. As much as parents and teachers want to, it’s not a reality.”
Dressed in home white uniforms for the first time, the girls’ volleyball team took just a few steps from the school to the gym in the new building next door. With the school’s mascot, a red hawk, emblazoned on the center of the floor, they took the court against a big rival, Clyde C. Miller Career Academy.
“We finally have something that’s ours besides a school,” said Renee Hall, 16, a junior co-captain.
Students, parents and teachers filled the bleachers to offer unfamiliar sounds to the players: cheers instead of boos and jeers.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve been here since 6th grade and it’s finally happened, we finally can play at our own home gym,” said Tylea Wilson, 18, a senior and co-captain.
A group of students shouted “let’s go Hawks!” and danced and screamed throughout the match, making even the small crowd seem monstrous.
At one point, as Lift for Life was leading Clyde C. Miller, a player pointed at the scoreboard and exclaimed, “That says home!”
Trying to rally his players before a decisive third game, Devitt told his players “this is our court.”
They lost, but as his players shuffled off the court, he reminded them there will be more home games to come.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney