Spiece Fieldhouse/Gym Rats Article

Gym Rats Logo Spiece Logo

The News-Sentinel has picked up the “story” about the Spiece Fieldhouse/Gym Rats dilemma.   Here are some excerpts from the article:

Gym Rats, a local and national hub for youth basketball, is investigating whether to continue to stay in Fort Wayne down the road.

[…] Spiece Fieldhouse owner Tom Spiece wrote in an e-mail response to The News-Sentinel that he would keep his facility up and running, even if the Gym Rats eventually leave.

“Their lease does not expire until 2010 and I have not heard that they would not be renewing,” Spiece wrote. “In the event that that would happen, I would probably treat it like the $75,000 property tax increase that the city put on me when I started the Fieldhouse.

“I would complain and then realize that it was my problem to solve and work to fill the space. Spiece Fieldhouse is used to adversity and is a tough competitor. Although the city tends to favor baseball and ice hockey, I think there is a market for basketball and fitness in Fort Wayne and it can be a viable business without taxpayer support.”

Gym Rats Inc., owner Todd Hensley said the city could lose $10 million per year if he ends up moving his business to Indianapolis or another city. He said he is happy with the Spiece Fieldhouse, but not with the way city government has favored other ventures.

[…] The issue, Hensley said, is that Gym Rats has not been treated with much value by city government and, in some cases, by the media. More than 4,000 youth basketball teams play in leagues and tournaments, generating 28,000 or more room nights at hotels, as well as $10 million new dollars, Hensley said.

[…] [Anne] Davis said she also feels that most people do not realize Gym Rats is a locally-owned business, and faces the same challenges.

“Just like any other business, they’re struggling to make ends meet,” Davis said. “I think people sometimes forget that.”

[…] “When we see other entities popping up and given government assistance, they’re overlooking some of us who have been here for awhile and I think that’s where the frustration is,” Hensley said. “I see the baseball stadium downtown, and I’m all for bringing in new ventures, but I think we should just be careful not to overlook the ones that have been here making an impact economically and socially to the city.”

[…] Hensley said he has not set a timetable on a decision over whether to keep Gym Rats at Spiece Fieldhouse or move to another city. He doesn’t have any demands, per se, from the city government. But he said it’s fair to say he’d like Gym Rats to be treated with the kind of enthusiasm he sees given to new sports ventures.

“We’re going to continue to do what we do,” Hensley said. “We’ll run our business as well as we can.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  What exactly are they looking for City government to do?  Are they looking for a magic wand to be waved by the City to make all their problems disappear?  I think Deputy Mark Becker and his wand left the building – but maybe he left enough with other City employees to do the job.  (Yes, I’m being very sarcastic here.)

When you say that the City is favoring other ventures, what exactly are you talking about?  Infrastructure improvements?  Tax Abatements?  These are really about the only tools City government has available to them.  From the sounds of it, the group probably wouldn’t have availed itself of abatements and the only infrastructure request I heard was for sidewalks which I have a feeling the City viewed as pointless in that area of town.  The interstate signage, well, to me, that’s advertising and a cost of doing business, not something my tax dollars should be spent on.

In my experience with a couple of organizations here in town, the media can be a fickle, inconsistent bunch.  It’s hard to engage them and keep them engaged – it takes time and work.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve noticed coverage of the annual Gym Rats event has decreased over the years.  Unless you give them something new, chances are, you won’t get the coverage and that puts the responsibility back on the organization.  Developing and cultivating media relationships is a year-round effort – not just the few weeks before an event.  

There is something to be said for their comments regarding the new ventures in town.  They are going to get press and exposure – the same sort of thing the first year or two the Gym Rats program received it was here.  The key is to gently remind the community that you are still here in a non-controversial, non-whining way. 

On Mike Harvey’s Beach Volleyball in Fort Wayne blog, he writes about a meeting yesterday with Todd Hensley, Anne Davis and Jeff Pruitt:

One factor deals with local schools. Carmel schools were mentioned as a place that has a great feeder system for youth basketball. It starts as early as kindergarten there whereas in Fort Wayne, due to open enrollment, there isn’t an incentive to start a North Side program, or wherever, for younger ages, because of the “recruitment” that goes on with high schools. I speak from experience that this creates a lot of drama in the world of the youth volleyball clubs in town as well as with other sports…

(Finally, something specific!)  This sounds like a legitimate complaint, although it involves Fort Wayne Community Schools, not the City of Fort Wayne government itself which are two autonomous bodies who do not answer to the other.  True, the City might make a request or recommendation of FWCS, but it wouldn’t be binding.  I’m also curious about why this wasn’t highlighted in the Reggie Hayes article.  Hayes is a sports reporter for the News-Sentinel, why didn’t he talk about this issue in his article?  It would seem the most logical place in the world for it to appear in.  Unless it’s that whole the media isn’t really engaged thing – and I do buy into that argument.

I guess this is all sounding like sour grapes to me – and not helping their efforts at all.  All it is accomplishing is putting them on a we versus the world footing which is never beneficial to either party.  And for the record, I really do care about this event and the potential impact its loss would have on our local economy.  But, unless you give us more specifics, we can’t help.


  1. Here’s my link to the N-S article and early info on what is in the podcast: http://fairplayvolleyball.blogspot.com/2008/12/spiece-gym-rats-story-in-news-sentinel.html

    One area where the local sports media lost the ball in my area of business (volleyball) to compare is with the Final Fours in Fort Wayne. Arnie Ball brought at least 3 Final Fours to Fort Wayne (Division 1) but promotional efforts weren’t good. Its my understanding after the last one was so embarrasing he’d never do it again…

    There’s too much to respond to in what you have written above and it would take some time and its tournament week for me this week. I have next Tuesday off… maybe I’ll come up and meet you and set in on a meeting if thats possible…

  2. Stephen,

    I’ll have more on my discussions with Spiece and Gym Rats later but I must disagree with a few things you mention. First off, sidewalks are definitely needed in that area. The parking lot overflows during tournaments and cars park on the streets. Where I parked yesterday was in a giant puddle of water and mud. I hardly think it’s too much to ask to put in sidewalks there. It’s a very reasonable request for the tax dollars they pay and for the economic development they’ve brought to the city.

    Second, the Gym Rats have consistently sent out press releases about major events bringing the top basketball players and teams in the country to the area and the local media simply doesn’t cover it. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or a general bias towards high school sports but the lack of coverage is not because the Gym Rats haven’t been trying nor because there wasn’t newsworthy events.

  3. Jeff,

    Good to know about the sidewalks, although again, I would really like to know the City’s reason for refusing to put them in. Again, this is part of the problem. When I first read the City wouldn’t put sidewalks in, my thoughts were that it’s not a residential area and there aren’t probably a lot of sidewalks in that area – what would be the point. Now if it’s a situation like you’ve described, that’s a bit different. But it’s these kinds of specific things that need to be brought out.

    I did write in agreement with the things said by the Gym Rats people about the media. I don’t know what the answer is. I scratch my head sometimes at the events that do receive coverage and those that receive nothing. There’s really no rhyme nor reason and I don’t know what the answer is. But there is another outlet in this community – that of bloggers. If they send me their press releases, I will try to include them on this blog. Reach out to the bloggers – we’ll take you if the traditional media doesn’t want you!

  4. Mike,

    Actually, I should come to River City and meet you there as I never did make it out there this past summer.

    I’m really not trying to be obnoxious or overly critical about this situation. I carefully weigh what I write before and after I write it. I stand by what I wrote. I welcome the opportunity to retract if I’m wrong. I welcome the opportunity to sit down with you or anyone else who wants to – or to offer the services of my blog.

    I do wish the people involved in this well – I personally wouldn’t want to be a business owner in today’s economic situation. I think it truly takes talent, brains and courage! My hats off to all of you! But hopefully, what I’ve written challenges the people involved to look at how this is developing and perhaps alter the approach a bit to be even more successful!

    PS – How did your inspection go today?

  5. The inspection went just fine but it all ended wrong. I’ll send you and Jeff an email about it since you guys are interested in this type of thing.

    I’ve read enough of you writings to know you are of good intent and are trying to get to the bottom of things and why they are the way they are…


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