Clearwater Central Catholic High has built a first-rate high school football program with five state semifinal appearances in the past six seasons.
Trouble is, the facilities have not always matched the product on the field. For years, the stadium, locker room and weight room lagged behind other private schools in Pinellas County that continually raise their profile by topping each other with the biggest and best upgrades money can buy.
The Marauders are rapidly catching up.
The school received more than $600,000 in donations for an artificial turf field, additional home bleachers and a press box in the past five years. Another $50,000 to 60,000 in donations, mostly from parents, helped build a state-of-the-art weight room this past year that rivals any other in the area.
Now comes the next step that could put CCC over the top.
In December, an anonymous donor pledged more than $1 million to cover the costs of an athletic center, which has become all the rage among private schools.
"It’s getting to be like big-time colleges with private schools around here that keep building new facilities with all these bells and whistles," Marauders football coach Chris Harvey said. "You’re constantly trying to keep pace."
Shorecrest Preparatory School has a multi-million dollar athletic center that has two basketball courts, as well as offices and locker rooms.
Calvary Christian opened a new basketball and volleyball gym in October that features meeting rooms and offices.
But football is where the biggest push comes for plush palaces.
Six years ago, Calvary Christian set the county standard with an opulent football cathedral dubbed "The Rock."
The facility includes a glass-enclosed weight room, 40 individual lockers for football players, along with high-definition televisions that allow players to watch game tape, an artificial turf field and an electronic scoreboard capable of video replays.
Every amenity imaginable has been added. There is a playground for children. A rubberized track to host big meets. And an area in front of the ticket booth is reserved for tailgating and live music on football Friday nights.
The cost: $4 million, all paid for via a donation through Dr. Pit Gills, a member of the church.
While the Marauders may not be able to surpass that kind of singular donation, they have had people open their pocketbooks for upgrades that keep them competitive with their rivals.
Construction for CCC’s athletic center is supposed to begin in the spring with a completion goal of early fall.
What separates the Marauders’ athletic center from the competition is that it will be strictly for football. There will be a meeting room that can seat 75 with high-definition televisions. Locker rooms and offices also will be included.
"We already had a great program," said Harvey, who just led CCC to an unbeaten regular season. "This just adds to it with facilities that are going to be hard to top in football."
The school’s other programs will not be left out. The building currently used for the football offices and locker rooms will be taken over by the basketball, volleyball and soccer teams once the athletic center is built.
"We’ve been trying to build this program up a while with better facilities," said former CCC football coach John Davis. "I tried to do that with improvements to the field (turf and bleachers), but the athletic center was something that was way off in the future.
"Now we’re able to see it through, and this place is going to be special."