Pads on benches crack and wear away. Dumbbells get beat up and their grips dig into users' palms. Technology that was once state-of-the-art becomes obsolete. All of that and more has happened to the weight room at Lakewood Ranch High since the school opened in 1998. The room's equipment has not been updated since the opening.
Mustangs athletic director Kent Ringquist decided the school needed an upgrade. He wasted no time in creating a plan to get Lakewood Ranch the most advanced weight room in the region.
Ringquist and Lakewood Ranch High have started fundraising for a total revamp of the school's weight room equipment, setting the goal at $100,000. The school is not getting any money from the School District of Manatee County for the new weight room. This is something the Mustangs are doing on their own because Ringquist feels it is that important to the school's athletic success.
The revamp is happening for a number of reasons, aesthetics being one of them.
No one likes using equipment that looks worn down, Ringquist said. More importantly, however, updating the equipment will make the weight room safer. Currently, the room contains 15 single-use power cages, where athletes perform squats, bench presses and other activities. Each cage stands on its own large platform raised off the ground. The platforms are a hazard, Ringquist said, creating the chance that a student trips over them while walking or falls off them when done using the cages.
These 15 single-use cages would be replaced by eight twin-use cages that can be placed directly on the floor. Not only will this eliminate the tripping hazard, but it will allow more people (16) to use the cages at once while simultaneously creating more space for other activities in the room.
Along with safety, the new room will give the Mustangs advantages other schools do not have. Andrew Shackleford, who was hired as Lakewood Ranch's director of sports performance in 2021, said each of the new cages will come with a digital tablet attached to the side.
On these tablets, Shackleford can install a program called "TeamBuildr," in which Shackleford can track individual athlete's weight training progress in different exercises while writing them personalized training plans. Shackleford said he gained access to the software through his work as a graduate assistant at Western Illinois University, but the program is also used by professional sports teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia Flyers. Shackleford said Lakewood Ranch would be the first high school in the area to use the technology.
"Athletes are being more specialized in one sport," Shackleford said. "They develop poor (training) patterns when they do that. They are using the same muscles in the same way over and over. It causes overuse injuries. That's what we have to address. We need to help them prevent injuries. Seeing how they are training and giving them plans to vary it can help with durability."
The news cages and the "TeamBuildr" technology will be the biggest changes to the room, but not the only changes. Shackleford said the school's dumbbells will all be replaced with new models, as will the barbells and weight plates if there is enough money raised.
If the $100,000 goal is surpassed, he said, the school could invest in safety bars for the power cages, which make squats easier on people recovering from upper body injuries, as well as trap bars (also known as hex bars) which put less pressure on a user's back when deadlifting than a traditional barbell.
Ringquist said he wants the school to purchase the new equipment and start moving it into the room by late August, giving next school year's fall sports teams the chance to use it. These upgrades, Ringquist said, can take Lakewood Ranch athletics — which already has a handful of elite sports programs — to the next level, as every sport can utilize the room and tailor it to its athletes' needs.
"For us to be competitive, we need this," Ringquist said. "We feel like our athletes need to get stronger. It's why we hired Andrew (Shackleford). He's talented and he's going to help us get there, but we need the equipment, too."
A GoFundMe page for the cause has been created, where members of the community can donate. Alternatively, checks can be sent directly to the school.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.