Story by Jadrian Klinger; Photography by Jadrian Klinger & Stephanie Jordan
Of all the places throughout the wide expanse of the United States of America, including all 50 states, territories and minor outlying islands, there is but one relatively small community that lays claim to the largest soon-to-be-opened sports complex in the entire country.
Some readers may assume such an immense facility would likely be in California, New York or maybe even Texas – after all, everything is said to be bigger in the Lone Star State.
But none of these highly populated locales can boast this top distinction of the sports-complex world. Only the Lancaster County borough of Manheim has the right.
While there may be a few typos throughout this month’s column, the word “Manheim” is not a misspelling of Manhattan, Miami, Memphis or even Milwaukee.
The largest and perhaps most innovatively state-of-the-art sports complex in the whole nation – weighing in at more than 700,000 square feet indoors and 50 acres outdoors – exists in Manheim, Pennsylvania, and it goes by the name of Spooky Nook Sports.
There is just one big question on everyone’s mind, or at least those who are aware of the enormous facility repurposing and expanding what was once the old Armstrong building just off the Salunga exit of Route 283.
When do the doors open to the public?
As of mid-April, there is no specific date, but the official answer is late spring or early summer.
While Sam Beiler – Spooky Nook founder and former owner of Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels – puts the finishing touches on the facility, I can tell you firsthand that the wait will be well worth it.
Just to give readers a feel for the indoor sports-complex behemoth that is Spooky Nook Sports, a not-so-brief rundown of most of what the facility will offer is in order.
Inside, there will be 10 full-length basketball courts, six tennis courts modeled after those used in the U.S. Open, AstroTurf® covered courts for a variety of grass sports, a partial baseball diamond, batting cages, pitching lanes, fitness areas, multipurpose courts, 6,000 square feet of rock-climbing surface, the Clip ’N Climb (more on that in a bit), locker rooms, team rooms, birthday party areas, a retail shop, a child watch area, convention space, an arcade, a food court and a smoothie bar – just to name a few things. Outside, there will be soccer, lacrosse and field hockey fields (one of which will be domed) as well as full-sized baseball, softball and football fields.
The list of sports to be played and practiced at Spooky Nook is as follows: archery, baseball, basketball, fencing, futsal, field hockey, football, lacrosse, martial arts, rock climbing, soccer, tennis, volleyball and a 5K mud run.
There will also be summer programs and camps. The sports complex is so impressive that the Women’s National Field Hockey team decided to move from California to Manheim to make Spooky Nook their home.
In other words, this place is something special and has to be seen to be believed, which is why I felt compelled to experience even a small dose of what Spooky Nook Sports will be offering.
Fortunately for me, Spooky Nook’s marketing coordinator Stephanie Jordan and adventure director Jordan Forney were nice enough to allow me a brief romp through what is called Clip ’N Climb, which is perhaps the most unique climbing experience in the country.
Forney, an experienced rock climber and instructor with an actual degree in adventure education from Messiah College, details the Clip ’N Climb.
“It is based out of New Zealand,” he explains. “I believe there are nine now in the world, and we are the only one in America. It’s a really interesting blend of rock climbing and obstacle course. It’s all run off of auto belays, which means instead of having someone at the bottom holding the ropes for you, there is a machine that holds the ropes. The auto belays are run off of rare-earth magnets, so even if the facility loses electricity, whoever is climbing will still be on belay, which is very important. The Clip ’N Climb bridges the gap between someone who is not so sure about climbing, but who is looking to get further into it.”
In total, the Clip ’N Climb features 14 elements, 12 of which are fun and interesting takes on rock climbing. The final two elements, known as Stairway to Heaven and Leap of Faith, add something a bit different to the experience.
Stairway to Heaven is basically a circular series of bright green poles that increase in height with each upward step taken. There is just enough space to place your foot atop each pole. The key is to keep moving as you ascend the vertigo-inducing climb until you reach the final and highest pole.
Much like Stairway to Heaven, Leap of Faith tests your nerve and measures your fear of heights. Essentially, you climb a ladder on the side of a wide red and white pole. At the end of the ladder juts a short plank, which you shuffle out onto in preparation of leaping into midair.
Directly in front of you – set at various distances away, depending on your bravery – hangs what looks like a bright red punching bag. The idea is to jump across the open space far enough to grab and hold onto the hanging “punching bag.”
I’m proud to report that, while most middle-school-aged kids can probably complete the challenge of most every element of the Spooky Nook Sports Clip ’N Climb, I not only made it to the second to last pole of Stairway to Heaven without getting scared and jumping off, but I also conquered the Leap of Faith without shedding a single frightened tear. Adventure was, without a doubt, experienced as well as accomplished.
The Clip ’N Climb is just one aspect of the adventure side of Spooky Nook.
“There’s also the rock-climbing wall, the mud run and a ropes course,” notes Forney. “It’s all under adventure here. We also have team-building activities for corporate, sports teams and anyone who wants to work on group dynamics.”
Without a doubt, the Clip ’N Climb was a blast, despite not being the biggest fan of heights. In fact, being a bit scared made it all that much more enjoyable.
“The facilities here range in level from someone who has never put on a harness in their life all the way up to someone who has been climbing for 30 years. It will be able to cater to everyone,” Forney says. “…A lot of the things we have here will be able to put you out of your comfort zone, which is good because that is where you will do most of your growing as a person. You can find out a lot about yourself during those times, whether that means conquering a fear of heights by walking on the Stairway to Heaven or just running a 5K mud run. The environment we have here is something that will be welcoming and friendly, but also a place where you can strive to push yourself.”
For more information about Spooky Nook Sports and the Clip ‘N Climb, visit spookynooksports.com.