Magic Celebrates Three-Year Anniversary of Community Gyms and Amway Center Opening
By John Denton
October 10, 2013
As he and his friends walked to school and through the neighborhood three years ago, Winter Garden’s Jamari Morgan would look out at the construction cranes, the steel beams rising from the ground and the scurrying workers and let his mind conjure the possibilities.
Word had spread quickly among Morgan and his friends that a new community gym was in the works, and the only news better than that for the teenager was that his favorite team, the Orlando Magic, was the driving force behind the dazzling facility.
Not only would Morgan and his basketball buddies no longer have to play ball in a nearby park where unsavory activities occasionally went down, but they would also now be privy to a 250,000-square-foot West Orange Recreational Center that was downright beautiful to the eye.
“When we finally got to see the inside the gym, we were blown away because it was nothing like what we were used to,” raved Morgan, 18. “It gave us a really nice place to come and hang out with friends.”
Morgan’s story is similar to that of roughly 75,000 kids and adults a month in Orange County who utilize the five community gymnasiums built by the Magic. The five facilities – the South Econ Community Park on Econlockhatchee Trail; Goldenrod Park on Goldenrod Road; Meadow Woods Park on Rhode Island Woods Circle; Silver Star Community Park on North Apopka Vineland Road; and the West Orange Recreation Center in Winter Garden – recently celebrated their third anniversary. And because the facilities are state-of-the-art and costs are kept at a reasonable amount by the not-for-profit ventures, they have been a boon for Orange County residents looking to shoot hoops, play volleyball, work out or simply congregate in a secure, air-conditioned facility.
“It’s just a great partnership between the Magic and these facilities,” said Penny Fawcett, site supervisor of the South Econ Community Park. “The residents of Orange County have benefited greatly from the five Orange County-Orlando Magic gyms. The gyms are always full and they offer reasonably priced programs. It’s just a great opportunity for the residents to take advantage of reasonably priced events to recreate.”
The South Econ Community Gym was the first of the five facilities to be constructed, opening its doors on May 14, 2010 in a ceremony attended by Magic CEO Alex Martins and former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty. The South Econ facility is one of the most heavily used community centers in Orange County and it recently had a high-water mark of 21,961 attendees over a month this summer. On most days, there are two Junior Magic league basketball games going on at a time for eight straight hours.
Boasted Fawcett: “We were the first of the five gyms. And we’re still the best.”
The construction of the five community gymnasiums coincided with the 2010 opening of the Amway Center (opening on 10/10/10), a 19,000-seat facility considered by many in NBA circles as the finest arena in North America. In addition to serving as the home court to the Magic and the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, the Amway Center has hosted dozens of concerts, arena league football games and events over the last three years.
While the Amway Center has undoubtedly given Orlando a sports facility to be proud of on a national stage, the five community centers have made an impact on an even more local level. With their large gymnasiums, cardio and weight rooms, game rooms and multi-purpose rooms, each 250,000-square-foot facility has proven to be a haven for local schoolchildren. Be it after-school programs, partnerships with the Boys and Girls Clubs or Junior Magic basketball leagues, thousands of kids flood the facilities on a daily basis during the summer and after school lets out.
“When I first walked in and saw this gym, it was a jaw-dropping thing to see,” said Winter Garden’s Deshaah Shirley, a 21-year-old college student who has been playing and volunteering his time at the West Orange facility for the past three years. “This gym was so beautiful to see and something that was nice to have in the community. I didn’t know that we were able to have something this nice, honestly. I was here for the grand opening and I’ve got to say that it was a beautiful sight. It’s just so nice for us to have a place like this to play basketball.”
Over the past few months, both summer camps and Junior Magic leagues were not only full at all five facilities, but all also featured lengthy waiting lists as well. Because the costs are so reasonable -- $40 for a week of camp during the summer – some parents in the area were greeted with surprise.
“The initial response was, ‘Why is this so cheap?’ But Orange County is a nonprofit and the parents are really happy that it’s available to them and their children,” said Lora Bryant, site supervisor of the West Orange facility.
“The first reaction that most people have when they come here is they are shocked how nice the facility is and how clean it is kept. They are like, ‘Wow, this is really nice,’” Bryant continued. “We have a lot of kids who before here had no place to go. We have some kids who have come back and spent a lot of time here volunteering, coaching or keeping score. I believe that we’ve made a big difference in their lives. They’ve finished school and they’ve come back asking us for recommendations for college, so that’s a very good thing.”
One such student is Shirley, currently a student at Florida International, who spent his summer working as a camp instructor at the West Orange Rec Center. Shirley is majoring in International Business at FIU, but he recently added a social work minor because of the love he has for working with children at the West Orange facility. He said the employees at the Magic-sponsored facility helped him so much that he wants to give back by helping other children as well.
“When this place went up, I started out as a member, working out and playing basketball here. But then I started volunteering as a coach and working the basketball camps,” Shirley said. “Now that I’ve been through this, it made me pick social work as a minor in college because I like helping people out so much. It helped shape my career because I want to help people. It inspired me in that aspect.”
Morgan, the 18-year-old, who used to walk past the West Orange facility during the days that it was being constructed, said the Magic should be lauded for reinvesting in their community. He said that having the West Orange facility to call as a second home helped to keep him safe during his formative years. After all, the alternative before the construction of the recreation centers wasn’t always the best option.
“There’s another park down the street that is outdoor, but it’s not really that safe there because of a lot of crime going on in the area,” Morgan said. “But with this gym, it has given us a good, safe place that’s in the air conditioning and it keeps kids out of trouble.”
Asked about the impact that a facility such as the West Orange Rec Center has had on his life, Shirley shuddered to think where he might have been without the safety and consistency of the three-year-old facility. And he said that while the West Orange facility has brought a sense of pride and community to the Winter Garden area, the good vibes given off by the gymnasium has also been contagious to children and young adults in the area.
“Having this place, the people who work here, they inspire you to do better in life. It’s a safe place to keep you away from the trouble surrounding us,” Shirley said. “And I will say that once this place went up a lot of the good characteristics of our neighborhood started to (improve). A lot of us kind of have grown up in here, so the addition of this gym has been huge for us.”
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