The students at St. Albert the Great Middle School in Compton had inherited their aging gym from former all-girls’ Regina Caeli High School (later Queen of Angels Academy) nearby. But since 2002, due to lack of funds for extracurricular activities, the once vibrant building hadn’t fared well.

Backboards and baskets could have been from some barnstorming early NBA team. The floor had long lost its shine. And the dim lighting looked like something Thomas Edison might have cobbled together.

A year ago, the St. Sebastian Sports Project (whose primary mission is to offer more opportunities for economically challenged Catholic school students to participate in organized sports) and the Shea Foundation (which has built and remodeled local urban Catholic schools) got together to radically redo the gym.

And on Sept. 18, the Dr. Lewis Albert Yocum Memorial Gym was dedicated. Yocum (who died in May) served as physician to the Los Angeles Angels for more than 35 years, and a number of Angels’ dignitaries and former players, including all-star third-baseman Doug Decinces, were present. Yocum believed in the value of team sports to impart skills and lifelong values that go far beyond the field or court.

At the dedication, Jim Gurbach, founder of the St. Sebastian Sports Project, James McGoldrick, executive director of CYO, members of the Yocum family, Angels officials and Tina Johnson, principal of St. Albert the Great, spoke.

After, while taking down the makeshift stage, Johnson told The Tidings how “everything has changed” in the new gym: refinished floors, bright ceiling lights, a wireless scoreboard, fiberglass backboards and new baskets, and freshly painted walls.

“Just the ability to play in a facility like this is going to be wonderful,” she said. “It just brings great pride to the kids. It enhances their overall feeling of being in organized sports and, you know, lifts their spirits. It encourages them to really do well because it’s such a great facility.”

The principal pointed out how these intangibles will benefit all 20 urban parochial schools who will use the gym for basketball, volleyball and more, including Our Lady of Victory, St. Philip Neri, St. Emydius. St. Raphael, St. Eugene, St. Lawrence of Brindidi and Transfiguration.

“Some of them don’t even have gymnasiums,” Johnson noted. “So it’ll bring great pride to all these students in the surrounding area.”

The first sport to be played in the Yocum Gym this fall will be girls’ volleyball. And five members of St. Albert’s team, all seventh-graders sitting on an aluminum bench, couldn’t be happier.

“It’s much brighter in here than before, and it’s bigger,” Taylor Minor pointed out. “And I just love the fact that we have someplace where we can practice and play in.”

“It’s a better place to do more sports,” agreed Stephanie Cervanzes. “Because our last gym wasn’t bright and colorful. But now we can see more.”

“Before I wasn’t looking forward to playing at all,” admitted Brianna Martin. “But it’s good now because we have more inspiration to play.”

Guadalupe Vazquez thought the new gym looked really cool. “And since it looks nicer now, we can, like, invite people. So we can have visitors.”

But maybe Jourdann Jones summed it up best: “It’ll just be more fun to play in.”