Palm Bay powers through first season on the road—literally and figuratively

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - New things are generally shiny and pristine, but the relatively new Palm Bay Prep Academy has wear and tear.

"We've got the eighth graders in a portable over there," freshman Aaron Jones said, pointing to one of multiple makeshift classrooms installed on campus after Hurricane Michael. "There's tenth graders in one big room. Us ninth graders, we're in like two rooms. The old room we were in, it just kind of flooded."

Palm Bay's brand new basketball team doesn't come with much of anything. No experience...

"Most of us, we're either like a rookie or like a sophomore and we don't know what we're really doing."

...and no gym.

"Oh no, no, no, we had a gym," Jones corrected with a smirk. "That got destroyed!"

"Destroyed" is no understatement.

"The wind blew the goal in on the ground, it's right here in the middle of the lane," head coach Jeremy Deal said, standing inside what would have been the Panthers home gym. "The scoreboard was up there to the left, it's laying down now. The winds blew all the way through and opened it up."

The gym suffered so much damage, only half of the building is safe to walk in. It will be knocked down during winter break.

One week before tryouts, the hurricane nearly blew away the season.

"The one thing I was worried about the boys," Deal said. "They just finally started feeling like this was their home. This side, we were going to paint the walls. The locker room is done, the benches there and the doors, painted in our teal. We wanted to get our Palm Bay colors on it, showcase our teal. It was just heartbreaking. The kids were all upset, worried they weren't going to have a basketball season."

All that was left was each other and the will to play.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

"It was imperative that we try to figure something out. I started calling around to the coaches I had on my schedule and worked out to where we would just go to them."

Every game, on the road. Every practice, too—literally.

"We practice on the blacktop as much as we can. It's dirty. Kids are slipping and sliding."

But they're thankful.

"I was really excited about finally getting to play here and practicing with this new coach and stuff," sophomore Juan Lage said. "Seeing it not be there any more was really sad for me, but then finding out we still had a team, it made the whole hurricane situation a lot better."

And they're together.

"We take our trips, go out to eat, and it just gives them a chance to be happy and laugh and have a good time, kind of get away from everything down here," Deal added.

"What makes it special is how we came together," Jones agreed.

What else could you possibly ask for?

Win a game. Nearly halfway through their first full varsity season, they're still waiting on that, taking an 0-5 record into 2019 with the closest game being a 48-24 loss at Calvary Christian in Fort Walton Beach.

"It would be pretty nice if we could get a win," Jones said. "It would be the first ever win for the whole school."

Even after the storm, winning matters, just in a different way.

"It's gonna make the school happier," Lage said. "It's gonna mean a lot to the school and a lot to me. That's how we're always going to be known here: the team that gets the first win!"

They'll also be known the team that weathered the storm...and never quit.