HELENA — Helena Christian School athletic director Gary Harlan deals with unique challenges when trying to coordinate facilities for his girls and boys basketball and volleyball teams to practice, let alone play home games.

The Rams, who compete in the Montana Christian Athletic Association, have yet to construct a centralized location to practices for the roughly 60-plus athletes who participate in school's athletic programs, or nearly one quarter of the school, according to Harlan.

A big part of Harlan's challenge is coordinating multiple practices a week at numerous facilities, which makes his job dealing with potential logistical issues increasingly tricky.

From Monday through Friday, with Wednesday night practices off, Harlan tries to coordinate the multiple facilities in and around Helena for both his boys and girls basketball teams.

Doing so without a centralized place for all of the teams to play is a struggle Harlan battles to allow his teams to prepare to play the 20-22 games on the schedule, in which they travel all over the state to play.

"Coordinating practices is a huge part of my job, and you might not want to say a nightmare, but I'll call it a nightmare here," Harlan said. "It is because what you have do to get these teams to practice and play and finding these gyms is very problematic, especially during certain times of the year."

Helena Christian leases space from Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church, which are two distinctly separate entities. Harlan hopes that could potentially change.

The Canyon Ferry Church and Helena Christian worked together to finalize plans to construct a 1,700-seat arena that will allow Helena Christian to be able to practice, and host tournaments and various other school events in what will be a multipurpose facility.

The timetable for the possible construction of this facility is unknown, as they are still seeking approximately $1.5 million more in order for the project to come to fruition.

The plans are all in place for this $3 million overall project to be completed. It's just a matter of getting the final $1.5 million this facility become a reality.

The flooring will include two official full-sized basketball courts at 84 by 50 feet, and one centralized college court, which measures approximately 90 by 50 feet in length with portable hoops and volleyball nets. The expansion will also include additional classrooms.

Chad Hesler, Senior Pastor at Canyon Ferry Baptist Church and varsity basketball coach, is optimistic about the potential for expansion.

The main thing holding up the project from happening is funding, and they are even open to receiving private donations to make what will take an estimated 60-90 days to complete the facility.

"Right now, we are just working in phases to get all of the designs completed and finished," Hesler said. "Once we have determined what we need and things of that nature, we will go ahead and get started with the construction."

Hessler is looking at this potential expansion as an opportunity for both the church and school.

"This is just another facility that we can use glorifying God," Hessler said. "We will have space for concerts, activities and outreach programs to be able to use the gym for a multipurpose area."

The church, which owns the land, would like to have this done by August, but because of multiple logistical issues, has opted not to put a specific timetable on the possible construction at this time.

"In a perfect world, we are using the gym next August when two-a-day volleyball practice starts," Hessler said. "Realistically, it'll probably be when someone makes a donation for the type of construction. Then we are talking spring, where we break ground and having it functioning in September if the money is found."

Helena Christian, a program that has boys and girls varsity basketball teams, a volleyball team, a boys soccer team, a golf team and during the spring they offer Ultimate Frisbee, has to find places to practice in and around Helena.

The basketball teams shift from the Salvation Army to Calvary Baptist Church, to even the YMCA in Helena to not only practice but play home games.

"We play games where we can play them," Harlan said. "We have a lot of away games. Having one area to practice would be ideal and make life for our athletic teams tremendously easier."

The MCAA has its version of a state basketball tournament that features four of the top-tier MCAA teams from the Western and Eastern portion of Montana. Helena Christain travels extensively during their season.

"It's a distinct time, and our academic expectations for our student athletes are very high," Harlan said. "We spend money traveling, and some of our closer games are in Bozeman and Great Falls. When you add up all of the time for everyone involved, we have a lot of hours invested."

Harlan said the athletes receive tremendous benefits from participating in sanctioned sports. The grades are reported on weekly to remain academically eligible to play.

"Our kids come out with excellent test scores, and they are well prepared for college," Harlan said. "They generally have high test scores because they are ready to apply themselves to reach their goals."

Hessler, also a basketball coach for the Rams, said he felt the teams and community of the non-denominational school will significantly benefit from having the facility.

"It will be great to have a place that we can call home and bring some alumni back," Hessler said. "Hopefully, our team will be very competitive and bring some excitement to the community in what the Seattle Seahawks call their 12th man. A place to call home does benefit the boys and girls, and having a place where parents and alumni could come would help cultivate a fan base."

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Jason Blasco is the lead prep sports reporter for the Helena Indepedent-Record and a sports reporter for the 406mtsports.com network.

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