Amid the clamor in one of Sandpoint football’s many summer practices, head coach Ryan Knowles noticed the weight room looked exactly the same as it did when he was in high school. This wasn’t a purely nostalgic observation: He thought the weight room’s cleanliness, equipment and even the floor mats didn’t change since he left Sandpoint for the University of Idaho several decades ago.
So in that moment, he decided to take action.
“The boys were in there lifting and I said, ‘We’re taking everything out of this place and cleaning it up,’” Ryan Knowles recalled. “As we started taking things out, we started getting the attention of the building supervisors and the district maintenance people. By the next morning, there were maybe two-dozen people in there fixing holes in the drywall, washing the ceilings and taking the mats out of there.”
The spur-of-the-moment decision turned into a two-day affair involving the maintenance staff and anyone the football coach could muster. As Knowles orchestrated the cleanup, he couldn’t help but feel work in the weight room wasn’t finished. “As we were working, I kept saying, ‘We’re just getting it ready for what’s coming,’” Knowles said. “I was confident that it was going to happen, but it couldn’t have happened without the Bulldog Bench given the $25,000 donation they gave to bring this thing home.”
What Knowles didn’t know was that the Bulldog Bench already set plans in motion to fundraise $25,000 for new weight room equipment. Numerous fundraising efforts from the Bulldog Bench, price negotiations with weight equipment distributors and hours of logistical plans later, Sandpoint High School’s weight room will receive 12 weight racks and four glute-ham machines to replace the existing equipment on Jan. 14. In total, the $25,000 donation from the Bulldog Bench was a byproduct of over 100 local businesses and individuals.
Although Knowles’s efforts as SHS’s weight room trainer and football coach laid some of the groundwork for the remodel, members of the Bulldog Bench saw a need to contribute to the weight room because of its universal impact on Sandpoint athletics.
“The key reason why we were so excited to fund the weight room in the capacity we did is that it touches nearly every athletic program at the high school,” Matt Meyer said. “And other students who are maybe non-athletes in the sense that they don’t play team sports will benefit as well. It certainly helps our football program, but we didn’t do it solely for the purpose of supporting just the football program.”
As Sandpoint High School’s weightlifting teacher, Knowles can already attest to the widespread appeal of a renovated weight room. Knowles has noticed SHS students, especially those who arrive on campus early, have used the weight room as a hangout spot.
“I’ve been in there a few times, and it’s amazing what the teams have accomplished with what they currently have,” Jay Vandenberg, president of the Bulldog Bench, said. “There will be 15 kids in there and it’s organized mayhem.”
Classes aside, other SHS coaches have taken interest in the project; Knowles has already reached out to several Sandpoint coaches — including basketball coaches Wade Engelson and Will Love, cross-country and track coaches Angie and Matt Brass, wrestling coach Jake Stark and girls volleyball head coach Jeff Hurst — about involving their teams once the new layout is complete.
“Once the coaches see the equipment, they’ll see it’s built for [offseason programs],” Knowles said. “If you want to take your program to the next level, then you need your athletes in the weight room. We have coaches at Sandpoint High School that are all-in on that. It’s definitely not just a football thing.”
Right now, offseason football lifting and classrooms are the regulars in the weight room. The space doesn’t look flashy, but it’s gotten the job done. The racks are purely economical, angular and bare-boned. Any padding on benches has cracked and peeled. In the corner, several bars stand upright, acting as an end-cap for rows of gray hand weights, which have lost their luster after decades of use. Yet in a few weeks, new equipment will phase out the old, and will probably have the same lifespan as its predecessor.
“That’s the exciting part about this: There are kids who haven’t been born yet in this county that will benefit from the new weight room equipment,” Knowles said.
Improving SHS’s athletic facilities won’t end anytime soon. SHS and the Bulldog Bench have their eyes on the adjacent aerobics room — complete with four treadmills — as the next phase.
“We have some treadmills and more fitness-based equipment over there, and that’s going to keep growing,” Knowles said. “You talk about the next phase, and that’s definitely it: There’s going to be a speed and agility section to our weight room. Because what’s in there now is more power-based.”
Aside from the weight room contributions, the Bulldog Bench has put money towards shooting machines for basketball, cheerleading mats, and a new wrestling scale amongst others over the past two years.
“One of the best things is to see my kids walk in your footsteps in the same halls that I did while having more opportunities than I had,” Vandenberg said. “I was grateful for what the Bulldog Bench, my parents, their friends and their community gave to me. As I got older, the same opportunity to give back to the kids came to me, and I wanted to do that too.”