St. Mary’s Ryken High School starts its school year off with a new president, a new principal and a new athletic facility that sits on the 87-acre campus in Leonardtown.

The Donnie Williams Center, a three-story building located on the upper part of campus, opened its doors to students and athletes last week after four years in the making. The school celebrated a Sept. 5 Mass last week inside the center on the basketball court, which seats 1,375 in the bleachers and between 800 and 900 on the floor.

“There was so much more room,” Betsy Haley, the school’s director of communication and marketing, said. “It was amazing.” Haley added that the previous location for Mass was too small to seat everyone at the school.

The center, which broke ground in 2017, is not just for athletes on the school’s sports teams. It also holds classes like physical education, yoga and CPR. And it will be the new location for the Catholic school’s graduations, assemblies and dances. The center also has offices for the athletic staff, a conference-style room for alumni and a campus store where students can buy St. Mary’s Ryken-branded apparel and their school uniforms.

“We really wanted there to be a college campus-type feel,” Haley said.

The center’s uses will expand to the outside community, as well. Rick Wood, the high school’s new president this year and former principal, said that’s part of the Donnie Williams Foundation’s mission.

Donnie Williams, who died in 2012, was a 1971 graduate and the foundation in his name was one of several major donors to the center.

Wood said Williams played baseball at the high school. “So he really loved his time at St. Mary’s Ryken,” he said, adding that he attended Salisbury University afterward and created a foundation to give back to St. Mary’s and Wicomico counties.

The school’s president said $8.5 million was raised to fund the center and more is being raised. He thanked the former president, Mary Joy Hurlburt, and the school’s board of directors.

Dozens of students walked inside the center around 1 p.m. on Friday. Some were headed to yoga, a new class offered this school year.

“One-hundred and twenty students signed up for yoga,” Wood said, adding that the entire physical education curriculum was redone. It now includes subjects like strength and conditioning, nutrition and cross fit.

At the end of the month, intramural sports will be available for “our athletes who aren’t in season or don’t want to be on varsity,” the president said. And, health and wellness activities are exclusively available to staff and faculty to exercise separately from students.

On the bottom floor are locker rooms, a weight room with St. Mary’s Ryken-branded equipment, an athletic training room with two hydro-therapy tubs, physical trainers room and multiple storage rooms.

“We’re really pleased with how it came out,” Wood said.

Twitter: @KristenEntNews

Twitter: @KristenEntNews