Opening a gymnasium can be exhausting for all involved, especially when it’s the biggest and most expensive gymnasium in Bakersfield.
But for North High girls basketball coach Brianna James, it was all worth it.
The Stars christened their new 2,000-seat, $12 million home by defeating Centennial 45-38 on Monday night.
“It’s great for our entire community. It’s great for our school,” James said. “It’s privilege for these young girls. It’s a privilege for us coaches. We are just happy to hopefully carry on the tradition we have here.”
Arianna Johnson led North with 13 points and Aliyan Johnson added 12, while Macey Esqueda had a team-high 14 for Centennial in front of a near-capacity crowd. Marina Lopez had 12 for the Golden Hawks.
A ceremony to open Lloyd Williams Court, named in honor of the Stars former longtime coach and athletic director, was held in between the girls and boys games, and featured several dignitaries from the Kern High School District and North High for a ribbon cutting.
And there were plenty of dignitaries that came out for the big night.
Former North High standout and former Major League Baseball pitcher Colby Lewis got his first look inside the gym as he walked in just before the start of the girls game.
“I saw it getting built. I came by and I was absolutely amazed at how big it was and how nice it was on the outside,” Lewis said.
“This is my first time walking in and seeing it and it’s spectacular. Definitely more of an improvement than what we had when I was in high school, that’s for sure.”
Harvey Hall, the former Bakersfield mayor was in attendance, mainly because his daughter, Amy, is the Centennial girls basketball coach. But Hall, never at a loss for words or with his fashion, was impressed with the new digs in Oildale.
“I think this is terrific,” Hall said.
“The $12 million they spent to build it is well spent. You can see by the North of the River people (in Oildale) here how dedicated they are to be here to open this place.”
Stan Davis’ first job as a high school basketball coach was at North in 1985 when Lloyd Williams hired him fresh out of college at Cal State Bakersfield.
Along with more than a dozen former coaches at North, Davis stood for a photo with Williams’ widow, Jeanette.
“I coached here for nine years,” said Davis, who is now the boys coach at Independence. “I loved it.”
The old gym at North, Davis said, he called ‘The Barn.’ Well known to have a leaky roof that would sometimes cancel games, it was clearly time for an upgrade.
“There is not going to be any holes in the ceiling here,” Davis joked. “But this. It’s ‘The Palace.’ It’s great.”
Centennial spoiled the party with a 100-64 win over North in the boys game following the ceremonies.
Will Alexander and Justin Greiner led Centennial with 22 each as the Golden Hawks hit 19 3-pointers.
Shannon Ferguson led North with a game-high 24 points and sophomore Larry Atkerson added 16 for the Stars.
This story has been edited to correct the first name of Centennial's girls basketball coach.