The darkened gym sits as a silent shrine to overambitious dreams and unwise spending.
Hoops attached to glass backboards are tucked against the ceiling, above electronic scoreboards and beyond the reach of the tallest center. Next to bleachers collapsed flat against a wall is a bright banner proclaiming Temple Christian High the 1985 Southern Section boys basketball champions of the Small Schools Division. To the side of the banner, regally framed along with school colors and the retired uniforms of two Temple Christian Southern Section players of the year, is the school fight song, an anthem nobody sings.
The only sounds echoing through the gym these days are from 9-year-old girls jumping rope on a playground outside. Temple Christian's entire athletic program folded this year after high school enrollment fell from 105 to 15 in two years.
"Knowing what I know now, we wouldn't have built the gym," said George Golden, school superintendent and pastor of Temple Baptist Church, which runs the 11-year-old Ventura school at a annual cost of $80,000.
The church paid $600,000 for the gym, which has become such a financial burden that the school is on the verge of closing. Academic programs had to be trimmed and improvements, such as a science laboratory scheduled to be completed this year, have been postponed. "We had to make cuts or continuing the school for another year would have been impossible," Golden said.
For what it cost to build the gym, which is intended to attract new students from all over the county, the school could operate for 7 1/2 years. Temple Christian administrators envision a large high school, that, in Golden's words "gives preparation for college and a good sports program for Christian athletes."
Projected as the first step in that direction, the gym instead contributed to dozens of loyal Temple Christian students, many of whom attended the 12-grade school since kindergarten, deciding to finish high school elsewhere.
"The kids could see it coming," said Marsha Dedrick, the athletic director and only high school teacher retained by the school. "If academic and athletic programs weren't going to be here, the kids weren't going to be there. Then the school, which has 160 pre-high school students, lost even more money when the athletes transferred."
Several of the top athletes were among the last to leave. Senior Mark Grcevich, a three-year starter on the basketball and baseball teams who now attends Buena High, did not transfer until the first week of school.
"There was a lot of confusion," Grcevich said. "Word got around. Someone would say, 'You're not going?,' and decide, 'Oh, I'm not going, either.' "
The athletic program--baseball, softball, girls volleyball, and boys and girls basketball and cross country--was scrapped the second week of school.
"We could have put people out there but we figured if you can't do it right, don't do it," Dedrick said. "If you can't field a real team, don't bother."
Temple Christian knew how to do it right. The boys basketball team had a record of 22-2 during its championship season and was 20-1 in 1986, losing only in the Southern Section semifinals to Whitney. The team fell to 9-8 last year but had four starters returning, including three--Nathan Combes, Lyonel Robinson and Harvey Jones--taller than 6-foot, 3-inches.
"This year's team could have rivaled the '85 team," said Frank Grcevich, Mark's uncle and a longtime Temple Christian follower.
The baseball team had been nearly as successful, putting together back-to-back Heritage League records of 12-0 in 1986 and 1987 before losing in the playoffs both years. The team is only six victories away from a Southern Section record for most consecutive league wins.
"We had enough good players that we would have had the record this year," said Grcevich, who pitched and played shortstop.
Temple Christian has gone from chasing records to proceeding with an ambitious plan to resurrect athletics and resuscitate ailing academic programs. Students are being recruited from 10 church-affiliated junior high schools in the county.
"We're talking about 1,000 high school students in five to 10 years," Golden said. "We are organizing and regrouping."
Talk of the drastic expansion began to circulate last year. But while many families associated with the school were excited by the plans, others were turned off to the point of leaving.
"A lot of the disaffection came from parents not caring for the idea of the school drawing students from all over the county," Dedrick said. "The plan sounded too businesslike."
Golden claims resistance to becoming a countywide school has been minimal.
"The ones with radical Baptist ideas didn't want to cooperate with anyone not Baptist," Golden said. "Others were afraid we'd lose total control of the school. But there has been no large opposition."
Restoring athletics next year and increasing high school enrollment to 150 within two years through the network of county schools is the immediate goal. Tuition ($1,750 a year per student) from that many students would cover the $100,000 a year gym payments and keep the school afloat.
By then, Golden believes, the gym will serve to attract even more students, including athletes who can return Temple Christian to its glory days.
"We hope to get athletics going again next year," he said. "Winning teams created such a spirit here. Maybe that spirit clouded our decision-making, but I'm confident we can rebound."
And instead of being trouble-filled, maybe the gym will again be filled with sounds of cheering fans and students chanting the Temple Christian fight song.