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Muskogee’s Gleaming Cathedral

AD says community is 'transformed' by elite basketball facilities

Tulsa World – Feb 13, 2024 | Bill Haisten

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL MUSKOGEE — From a distance equal to three city blocks, there was the first sighting of Muskogee’s massive basketball arena, brightly lighted and branded with a huge, green M.

As you roll into the parking lot, the building looks more like a major-college arena than a high school venue.

One year and one month since it opened for business, the Muskogee High School gym is to Tulsa-area prep basketball what Union-Tuttle Stadium is to Tulsa-area prep football: the best facility, emphatically and undeniably.

Several basketball figures have stated their belief that Muskogee now has the state’s best high school basketball fieldhouse. I can’t know that to be true because I haven’t seen most of Oklahoma’s high school facilities, but there can’t be a better arena in the state.

The Muskogee gym has a fancy name: The Fieldhouse at Rougher Village, which makes it sound like a really expensive apartment complex. Funded by a 2019 Muskogee Public Schools facilities bond of $110 million and built at a cost of $32 million, the arena is connected to the Rougher Village football stadium. In their second season in their impressive new home, the 2023 football Roughers captured the Class 6AII gold ball. It was Muskogee’s first football title in 37 years.

Bill Huddleston, the radio voice of Rougher sports since 1985, says Muskogee’s new facilities “created a sense of pride and unity” that can be felt beyond the high school campus.

“We raised $30,000 for (football) championship rings, and we did it in less than two weeks,” reported Jason Parker, the Muskogee Public Schools’ executive director of athletics, “People were throwing money at us. Everybody is on board now. We’ve got to keep pushing.”

When I arrived at The Fieldhouse at Rougher Village for a Choctaw-Muskogee boys’ game last week, the first two words I scratched on a notebook page were “gleaming cathedral.”

It’s a breathtaking space for high school basketball. “This is as good as it gets,” said Eddie Morris, a longtime game official and universally known in northeastern Oklahoma basketball.

In Muskogee leadership positions are a pair of former University of Tulsa basketball guards.

In 2000-04, Parker played in 133 games for the TU program. As a junior and a senior, he was the Golden Hurricane’s scoring leader. Today, he is 42 and known professionally as Dr. Jason Parker.

In a 1994 NCAA Tournament game, Lou Dawkins swished one of the more memorable shots in TU history — a 3-pointer to beat Oklahoma State 82-80. As the Saginaw (Michigan) High School head man, he coached Draymond Green and had a record of 149-28 with two state titles.

Dawkins was a college assistant at Northern Illinois and Cleveland State before he and his wife, Latricia Vaughn-Dawkins, moved to Muskogee four years ago.

Lou created the Rougher Youth Sports Academy while Latricia is a Muskogee Public Schools elementary principal. In 2022, Lou Dawkins became the Muskogee basketball head coach.

This season, Dawkins has nine players who last season were not on the varsity roster. Jace Parker, Jason Parker’s son, is a ninth-grade varsity guard. Jace Parker will play all of his varsity home games in The Fieldhouse at Rougher Village, and his dad says the development of the stadium-arena complex had a pronounced impact on the self-esteem of the community.

“This has changed what people think and say about Muskogee,” Jason Parker said. “We pretty much have the same constituency and the same enrollment that we had before, but we’ve turned it. This has transformed the Muskogee community. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Until becoming a member of Muskogee Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall’s cabinet, Parker was the Sapulpa Public Schools’ athletic director. In 4½ years at Muskogee, Parker has hired a new head coach for each of the 14 varsity sports programs.

“I was happy in Sapulpa, but Dr. Mendenhall and Dr. Dyce (Muskogee Deputy Superintendent Kim Dyce) sold me on the potential here and on this project,” Parker recalled. “Dr. Mendenhall believed this could be the galvanizing piece for the community. With the bond, our slogan was ‘made for more.’ This town and these kids are made for more.”

With regard to enrollment, Muskogee High School is the smallest of the 32 basketball schools in Class 6A.

“We have a unique dynamic here,” Parker explained. “This town is more akin to Fort Gibson, Tahlequah and Wagoner than it is to metro Tulsa, but we’re the only one of those towns that competes against the Tulsa schools. We have a rural dynamic in a suburban setting. It’s a dichotomy.

“It used to be that when our (basketball) kids would walk into the Jenks or Union gym, we would feel less than. Now, when Jenks and Broken Arrow walk in here, they see what we’ve done. They see what we have. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase: ‘I didn’t know Muskogee could have something this nice.’ ” Parker credits Mendenhall for having had the vision for the Rougher Village concept.

“Dr. Mendenall basically lived here (during the development of the stadium and arena),” Parker said. “He dang near slept out here. He was dreaming this deal. He would call me sometimes at midnight and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea.’

“The aesthetics of this — you won’t find this at any other high school in Oklahoma. It came together beautifully.”

Within The Fieldhouse at Rougher Village are video boards at each end of the arena, a 4,400-square foot room for strength and conditioning, the Muskogee Athletics Hall of Fame, the Rougher Spirit store, athletic department offices and locker rooms for the Rougher basketball girls, the Rougher basketball boys and the Muskogee football athletes.

There also is the Varsity Club, from which a fan can have a plate of food while watching a Rougher basketball game or football game.

Muskogee’s old gym, Dawkins says, was “a basic facility. What we’re in now is truly mind-blowing. It’s still mind-blowing for our kids and it’s really mind-blowing for the teams that come in to play against us.”