As Thomas Ross placed his football pads inside a new locker Tuesday, the Pinecrest Academy senior was happy to know the space will be his and his alone.
After years of using the rear portion of an auditorium stage as a makeshift dressing area — one shared by middle school athletes and the school band — Ross and his Paladin teammates were introduced this week to a new locker room which they will use in the coming seasons.
The new space, which sits adjacent the Paladins’ weight room, formerly served as a computer lab and storage room before administrators quietly transformed it over the past three and a half months.
"I didn’t expect this at all," said Ross, a defensive end.
"It’s nice to know that we don’t have to dig through middle school girls volleyball [equipment] to find our stuff [anymore]. It was a big problem, but now [this place is] incredible."
The project was the brainchild of first-year athletic director Tom Palmer, business manager Tom Hoover, head of school Robert Presutti and principal Ed Lindekugel.
The renovations required plenty of Palmer’s own elbow grease to complete, but he said it was all worth it.
"I used to tell a joke that if somebody went in [to our old locker room] to find something that it was like someone walked in the door and threw a grenade when they left," Palmer said, "but now we are completely organized.
"I’m amazed everything has come together and is ready for our guys. There was truly a need to do what we did."
Many days, Palmer, who took over as Pinecrest’s athletic director in January, would change out of his suit and tie and into a T-shirt and work pants to paint, haul in the new lockers off the delivery truck, or find some other way to move the renovations along.
Palmer wanted to make the revamped facility something of a surprise to the players, so he kept the area closed off until the work was complete.
"It really was a labor of love," he said.
"I wanted to do it first class. I know it’s not the Taj Mahal, but it’s light years better than we’ve ever had.
"I think people started figuring out something was going on when I had green paint on my pants. It was something that needed to be done, so I helped make it happen."
Though the space itself is an upgrade over what the Paladins used in the past, it remains something of a temporary home.
Palmer expects to get much more mileage out of the brand new, full-sized lockers occupying it. The Paladins’ previous lockers were actually half-lockers that made it difficult for players to get a helmet and shoulder pads to fit inside.
"You can’t buy a better locker," Palmer said.
"When we [build] a field house, these lockers will be disassembled and reinstalled there."
Palmer’s offseason tweaks to the football program haven’t been limited to metal furnishings and fresh coats of paint.
The athletic director has also purchased an inflatable tunnel — complete with an oversized Paladin mascot on the end — for the players to run through as they take the field this season.
Ross said the changes will help start new traditions at Pinecrest. He and his fellow seniors were able to pick their lockers first, before the lower grades were allowed to choose.
Ross had only one gripe about the changes to the Paladins’ football program — that he won’t get to enjoy them longer.
"I hate that I can only use [the locker room] for one year," he said.
"We’re so lucky to have this."