Noel Devine, lying on his stomach on the artificial turf, readied to push his body upright before sprinting about 20 yards inside Cape Coral’s new indoor sports facility.
Devine did just that as 15 children followed suit.
Later, the 2006 North Fort Myers High graduate, the all-time leading rusher in Lee County high school history and a standout running back at West Virginia University, had the children leaning against a wall, practicing their sprinter’s stances.
“Go! … Go! … Go!” Devine yelled, as the children propelled their feet, one forward, one backward as he walked from end to end of the line, straightening their stances as necessary.
Cape Coral Indoor Athletics, the only facility of its kind in the city, opened June 4. At about 10,000 square feet, it’s almost the size of two typical high school gymnasiums. Devine is one of several instructors who have local ties.
“It’s not Shady Oaks Park,” Devine smiled, remembering his teenaged workouts at the Fort Myers park, where he ran outside despite the intense heat and humidity of Florida summers. “I love this. It’s a passion.”
As Devine coached, the clatter of baseball bats hitting balls in an adjacent, netted batting cage, could be heard as traveling baseball coaches worked with their teams.
The baseball mantra made famous in the movie “Field of Dreams” – “If you build it, they will come” – became the guiding force for Jimmy Conti in establishing this facility.
But considering the mid-summer challenges of heat, humidity, rain and lightning, Conti chose not transform a corn field into a baseball diamond. Instead, he took his field of dreams inside.
Conti, a 2001 Cape Coral High School graduate, co-founded Cape Coral Indoor Athletics with business partner David DeMuro. The front half of the facility is devoted to baseball. he back half can be used for conditioning. If Conti wants, he can move all of the nets out of the way, with ease, and have the equivalent of a mini, indoor football or soccer field.
Located in an industrial park at 71 Mid Cape Terrace No. 5, Cape Coral Indoor Athletics is open every day but Sunday.
The crack of the bat could be heard often on a recent Monday, as about two dozen children ages 7-12 participated in a day baseball camp. Conti has other camps, classes and team outings scheduled throughout the year.
Sean Dowd, coach of the 14-and-under Cape Fear softball team, said the new facility offers him and his 14 players a luxury they did not have during his first six seasons. They train indoors Wednesday nights.
“I think it’s fantastic to finally get a sports complex like this in Cape Coral,” Dowd said. “We don’t have to take a 20-minute or a 40-minute drive over to Fort Myers anymore. Doing that after school or after work — the convenience is ten-fold better this way.
“The facility is inviting, clean. It’s very easy to get a parking spot. It’s positioned perfectly in the middle of our city. It’s just one of the best things that could have happened to us.”
Conti, a former assistant baseball coach at Ida Baker High, has baseball coaching help from former Baker coach Bob Vandeventer and former Baker assistant Tyler Bender, now an assistant coach at Indian River Community College.
“It’s what Cape Coral needed,” said Vandeventer, an adaptive physical education coach for the Lee County School District. “Being in Florida, with the rain and heat, this is a dream scenario. It’s nice not to be rained out, not to have heat exhaustion.”
Vandeventer also said he was thrilled to work again with Conti.
“He’s unbelievable,” Vandeventer said. “He’s very knowledgable about baseball, but what I love about him is he exudes enthusiasm. He just really relates to the kids. That’s why I’m more than happy to help out.”
Conti said less than three weeks into opening, things have gone even better than he expected.
“We’re already thinking about expanding,” said Conti, whose facility has room on either side to get bigger. “We started two weeks ago, and we’ve had teams here every single night.
“I feel really confident. I’m excited by the response we have had. I had a vision of what it would be like. There’s a huge opportunity in youth sports in this area.”
Devine, the father of five, needs 18 more credit hours to earn his college degree, after which he planned to find full-time work as a college football coach. Until then, he hoped to return in the fall to the Alternative Learning Center, a school for Lee County students with academic and discipline issues, as a security guard.
“Here, I’m working as a personal trainer, teaching speed and agility,” Devine said. “I’m working with athletes of all different levels. Without a doubt, this is a great facility. I just wanted to come back and do something for the community.”