A space for sports

Newly opened indoor sports facility allows athletes to practice, improve during winter months


Photo by Courtney Kueppers

Robin Baker, Nikki Brooks, Amanda Fischer and Leslie Huntington wrap up a night working at Eau Claire’s newest indoor practice space: The Eau Claire Sports Warehouse. Bake and Huntington also serve as coaches to Brooks and Fischer for UW-Eau Claire’s women’s softball team.

Story by Courtney Kueppers, Editor In Chief

Inside the doors of a blue steel building located on Eau Claire’s west side, the ring of baseballs hitting bats, the thud of basketballs hitting the floor and wise words of careful coaching echo.

It’s the scene of the city’s newest indoor athletic facility — The Eau Claire Sport Warehouse, 2983 11th St. — on a typical Monday night.  On that particular night, UW-Eau Claire women’s softball head coach Leslie Huntington worked with a middle school girl to perfect her pitching.

It was the 13-year-old girl’s first lesson at the warehouse so Huntington spent time debriefing with Whitney after the work was done. Huntington assured her everything they’re doing has a reason, “if you don’t understand why we are doing something, ask,” the seasoned coach told the girl.

By Huntington’s side in a matching blue softball jacket embroidered with the university’s logo, senior Nikki Brooks shadowed her coach.

Whitney’s mom, Terri Roytek, drove her daughter to the facility from Mondovi and she’s happy the facility is around.

The 12,000 square foot facility had a soft opening in June and a grand opening in September. It includes a basketball court, which is also used for volleyball practices for local teams, batting cages, spaces to lift weights and plenty of room for a birthday party. The space is available through memberships or by the hour.

“It’s well worth the drive up here,” Roytek said as she sat and observed Whitney.


Getting off the ground

Huntington, assistant softball coach Robin Baker and Associate Dean of Students Jodi Thesing-Ritter and her family are the brains behind the operation and make up the ownership team.

Thesing-Ritter got the idea for the space as the result of chasing her own children around. She felt it was important to have her children involved, so her teenage daughters are both part owners of the facility.

Combine that with Huntington’s need for a consistent space to offer her private lessons, and the seed was planted.

“We get a lot of comments about how great it is,” Huntington said. “The community response has been really positive.”

Along with Brooks, a senior outfielder on Huntington’s roster, Amanda Fischer also puts in hours with her coach at the warehouse.

Fischer, who plays third base for the Blugolds, said she appreciates having an indoor space in the winter.

According to its website, the mission of this facility is to allow space for athletes of all ages and abilities to remain active, address the gym space issues in town, provide knowledgeable instruction and be an affordable option.

It has been a little more than six months since the warehouse opened its doors and so far, so good, Thesing-Ritter said, who starts and ends most her days at the business.

Her vision for the future is for the space to be full all day.

Huntington said it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

“We took a big time leap of faith,” she said. “It has not been easy financially.”

However, for athletes like Whitney, it’s providing a chance to get ahead and stay fresh during the winter months, which Huntington said makes it all worth the while.