North's New Weight Room Sets the Bar High

Heavy Lifting Just Beginning
Posted on 08/22/2018
Image of Newly Renovated North Weight Room(Michael Beaven writing for Beacon Journal)

The days of a subpar weight room with worn out equipment are over at North High School.

What was for a long time a space with mismatched dumbbells and old bars and plates is now a safe and clean jewel with new “top of the line” equipment in one of the oldest buildings in the Akron Public Schools district.

“This is for all of the student-athletes at Akron North High School,” Vikings football coach Sonil Haslam said last week. “We want this to be something that the kids can be proud of. We want this to uplift the kids and give them something to say ‘you know what, this is a space that somebody helped put together for us and they believe in us.’ Things like this will help us get over the edge.”

High school sports have returned for the 2018-19 school year, and football games start this week.

Haslam smiled as he reflected on how the help of others has provided hope for a Vikings football team that has been winless in each of the past three seasons.

Mark Murphy, 26, is one of the people who has taken a liking to North, and with his nonprofit organization, FullyEquipped, has been able to help.

Murphy, 26, is a full-time software developer at MorelandConnect in Hudson. With FullyEquipped, his mission is to “partner with underfunded local schools to better equip young men and women for success in the classroom, extracurricular activities and life.”

Murphy, a football player and graduate of St. Vincent-St. Mary (2011) and Indiana University (2015), said at least $12,000 has been donated to North’s 2,700 square-foot weight room.

“We have received funding from a lot of people who want to help kids succeed,” Murphy said.

Murphy received guidance from his parents, Mark and Pam; his siblings, Kellyn, Katie and Kara; and their spouses; friends and former coaches. The elder Mark played in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers.

“My mom is an intervention specialist with Akron Public Schools,” Murphy said. “She does that part-time, and she was going to a middle school a few years ago with one of her kids and they didn’t have any balls or jump ropes for recess. We were like ‘Ah, that stinks.’ So we worked with a group that we started at St. Vincent-St. Mary called Irish Athletes for Christ. We were able to help get some balls and jump ropes.”

Haslam said FullyEquipped is also helping provide shoes and meals to North, East and Kenmore-Garfield athletes through the Children’s Hunger Alliance and has donated athletic equipment to Buchtel.

“This is Mark’s brainchild,” said Haslam, a graduate of East (1994) and The University of Akron (2003). “He wants to help kids. Social media is helping spread the word with Twitter and Facebook. … Mark is trying to build this and tell a story about how he wants to help level the playing field between parochial or suburban community schools versus our inner-city programs. Mark does not have a stake in the school. He doesn’t have a kid at the school and he didn’t graduate from the school, but he and his family are at the games, they’re feeding kids and they are doing things to help.

“We have also received donations from the Hall of Fame Sports Complex [in Canton] and from Firestone High School, which is putting together a new weight room. We got plates and dumbbells from Firestone Athletic Director Bran Fuller, and with FullyEquipped we have new Rogue weights, adequate flooring and turf inside the weight room. We are greatly appreciative of everyone’s efforts.”

Among the weight room features are 30 to 35 yards of turf to walk and run on, mats, eight benches, seven squat racks and several Cybex workout machines.

Help from mentors
Murphy said his high school football coach, Dan Boarman, has been a mentor along with Jim Conlon, a lawyer who helped establish FullyEquipped as a nonprofit organization.

“I have been blessed to be in places where we always had nice equipment and we had the things that we needed to participate,” said Boarman, a St. V graduate who formerly coached at Copley and St. V-M. “We saw a need here and thought ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity for us to give back and to change something that will hopefully change kids’ lives, not just now and not just the football team but for kids all through the school and for years to come.’ … We were lucky to have this kind of square footage.”

Conlon said he loves what Murphy is doing with FullyEquipped.

“Dan coached and taught for 42 years. I went to a high school [St. Ignatius] in Cleveland, and their mantra was you have to be a man for others, and that is what this is all about,” Conlon said. “We looked for programs and schools that didn’t have all of the tools but had all the energy like principal Kim Sabetta here. We are trying to help level the playing field.”

Haslam said that the weight room can be used by North athletes, staff and physical education students.

“With Dr. [Joseph] Congeni and the Murphy family, they don’t want the press,” Haslam said. “They just want to pay it forward. It is so much bigger than just North High School. It is people wanting to get kids in a better position and letting them know that somebody believes in them.”

Congeni, the Director of Sports Medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital, is also the Archbishop Hoban football team physician.

Haslam said North athletes have helped with the improvements in the weight room, and guest speakers such as Congeni, Boarman, St. V-M Athletic Director Willie McGee and boys basketball coach Dru Joyce II and Akron police officers have come to speak.

“This is really impressive,” APS Athletic Director Joe Vassalotti said. “Up to this point, North really didn’t have a weight room to take pride in. It was very small and equipment was old. To have the folks from St. Vincent-St. Mary, Dr. Congeni with his Hoban ties and Firestone donating their old equipment to help has been awesome. I also give a lot of credit to coach Haslam and Mrs. [Carrie] Stewart, the North athletic director, for getting the coaches and players here to help move a lot of the equipment and set it up.”

Sabetta expressed her appreciation to FullyEquipped.

“Seeing our students’ faces and what this space truly means to them is amazing,” she said.

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