An old school approach finds success in new digs


Cheney High School's expanded weight facility brings in more athletes and produces results



If you want an example of the axiom “If you build it, he will come” look no further than Cheney High School's new weight training facility. And if you substitute “they,” as in Blackhawks athletes, for “he,” you'll have one reason some cite for the increased success in high school sports.

But to do it Cheney High's new training facility takes an old, time-honored approach.

The facility was moved to the location of the former woodshop at the end of the 2011 school year because of a need to better utilize available classroom space. It didn't come without some controversy as woodshop program proponents complained about its demise.

School officials said the additional space was needed, however, because of the purchase of new computers and requirements for more lab time in the coming school year. So with teacher input, the fitness center machines located behind the curtains of the Hatch Gym stage, along with free weights and other equipment from two small classrooms were moved to the 3,000 square foot former shop.

And while the changes meant the end of the woodshop program in Cheney, it meant a new beginning for physical fitness and athletic strength training.

“This,” Blackhawks assistant football coach Bryan Williams said, gesturing about the new facility last Wednesday morning, “is a game changer for us.”

One of the first hurdles to clear was equipment. The new facility was remodeled, complete with a rubberized floor, as part of the $20,000 in changes. But because of room-size limitations in the previous locations, the equipment was woefully sparse.

Two things needed to happen. CHS progressive weight training teacher and assistant football coach Chuck Cone set about contacting friends in the Spokane-area fitness field, calling in a few favors and making deals to line up some good, used equipment at affordable prices.

Paying for the equipment was another thing, and Williams turned to a resource he knew well, the Cheney Football Association. Wife Lynell was president of the CFA, and she quickly began lining up contributions from parents, including one who said he'd like to help in a big way.

“I know he wouldn't want to be mentioned but I'm going to name him anyway because he played a big part and deserves the recognition – Steve Sheffels,” Bryan Williams said. “He wrote a check and paid for it.”

As the equipment came in and the room took shape Cone said another hurdle was how to manage the facility. The smaller rooms allowed only a few athletes to work out at one time, but with the expansion a lot could potentially come.

“When you get 3,000 square feet, you've got to organize it,” Cone said. “We all organized this in my garage on a Sunday.”

Cone said a group of coaches and interested individuals met in his garage one Sunday afternoon where he pulled out his whiteboard and began writing down ideas, needs and approaches. One of those in the garage was city of Cheney employee Bryan Byrd.

Cone said Byrd's experience playing football for Washington State University provided insights and perspectives on coaching and training a large group of athletes at once.

The room was up and running last summer, and many believe it's already produced positive results. Incoming senior Masen McCormick, who said he's been lifting for five years, credits the training as one of the reasons the Blackhawks' football team went 7-3 last season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

“It's been crazy how much it's changed,” McCormick said. “It went from basically being in a broom closet to this (gestures around). The number of lifters has increased and all sports benefit.”

Which is a central theme when speaking to those involved with the facility.

“Kids in general understand this is not just a football thing,” Blackhawks' head coach Jason Williams said, adding that athletes in swimming, basketball, volleyball, wrestling and baseball use the facility.

Cone and Bryan Williams said their approach is to design the training for the individual athlete and the sport they're training for. Instead of using cross training programs that employ “muscle confusion” or “interval training” or an emphasis on “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement” as some workout programs proclaim, Cheney High's facility is more “old school.”

Williams said they emphasize a core he called “The Big 3” and Cone referred to as “Olympic Lifts:” Squats, cleans and bench press, with attention paid to the hips and lower body region, the engine behind an athlete's power. But there's a twist: The training is supplemented with other work targeting larger ranges of motion used in the athlete's sport, and can employ some unique equipment.

Cone gave an example of a basketball player holding a weighted ball above the head and jumping up and down. Or running or walking while holding kettle bell weights, like a dairy farmer bringing milk in from the barn. It's doing activities that used to be chores, but were then expanded to function as exercises.

“It's old school lifts that make you do something,” Cone said.

Athletes credit the new facility with not only physical improvements but also providing a mental workout. For three-sport athlete Eric Igbinoba, the room work builds camaraderie.

“All your teammates around are pushing and encouraging you,” he said.

All the work is done under the watchful eyes of Cone and the coaches, who stress safety as part of the workout. Williams said Cone is a “technician,” making sure athletes use proper techniques all the while learning about their bodies and how to keep them fit.

“It's really not a sweatshop,” assistant football coach Rick Olson said. “It's a classroom.”

It's a classroom where the impacts have effects on more than just sports. Football player Masen McCormick credits the training for providing a good work ethic while also teaching respect, while volleyball and basketball senior Samee Sheffels noted they now have calluses on their hands, something her teammate Kendyl Cone admitted also came from doing yard work like pulling weeds.

“It's that old school,” her father Chuck Cone said with a smile.

John McCallum can be reached at


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