SHARON MCBRAYER Editor
VALDESE – It has seen generations of kids pass through its doors learning the basics of basketball and has been a second home to many.
It was a place to make friends, hone some skills, or play a simple game of “HORSE”.
But the gymnasium at the Valdese Community Center has seen better days.
And now some of those former kids are leading a fundraising campaign, along with the city, to renovate the gymnasium and honor a coach who had a huge impact on their lives.
Wayne Owens played a big role in the lives of kids who walked through the doors of the gymnasium. He was athletic director of the community center from the 1950s until 1973, when he died.
David Andersen, director of Valdese’s recreation department, said Owens ran all the different leagues, was responsible for coaching youth basketball and baseball, and was involved in the swim program, as well as in training lifeguards for the 20 years he was there. And he did it all with one arm.
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In a video Brinkley made to honor Coach Owens, he said growing up at Valdese was a wonderful experience.
“The community center was our meeting place,” Brinkley explains in the video. “It was just a wonderful place to play and we had good leadership. And the reason I’m here today is to promote a man who I think is important in this community.
He said Owens was way ahead of his time.
“Wayne taught us a lot about honesty, character, integrity and sportsmanship,” Brinkley says.
Brinkley said the character and leadership Owens taught them followed many people in the community throughout their lives.
“We respected him and we loved him and he shared that love with us,” Brinkley said.
He said there was really nothing in town to honor Owens. So, along with the mayor and city officials, they came up with the idea of completely renovating the entire interior of the gymnasium, from the floors to the goals, and naming the gymnasium after Owens.
Brinkley decided to lead the fundraising effort with a $50,000 donation and he asked the city to match it from its capital fund.
Brinkley asks people to donate what they can.
“This is a necessary project in our community and we have an obligation to the youth of this community to do it as Wayne Owens would want to do,” Brinkley said.
Andersen said the estimate to renovate the gymnasium was $350,000 when the idea was born, but with ongoing supply chain issues currently, an updated estimate has been difficult to pin down. Now, it appears the gym’s renovation cost is around $230,000, Andersen said.
This work would include a new gym floor. The current one dates from 1938 and can no longer be sanded or refinished, Andersen said.
Additionally, six basketball goals would be installed, some of which would be retractable, volleyball court sleeves, as well as new bleachers similar to those in high school gymnasiums. A dividing curtain that could be used to separate the gymnasium would be added as well as updated scoreboards.
The project also includes the renovation of the entrance hall of the gymnasium.
Andersen said he was working with Kellex Seating in Valdese to come up with a good furniture plan and some ideas to make the lobby a really welcoming space.
The lobby will also include some history of the building and a focus on Coach Wayne Owens and his time at the community center, Andersen said.
He said they wanted to make the lobby a welcoming and inviting place for people to gather while their children are playing or waiting for a game to start.
So, in addition to Brinkley’s donation and the City game, the project raised about $46,000, including about $31,000 in the past two weeks, Andersen said. He said fundraising will continue throughout the project,
As for the most up-to-date project cost estimate, Andersen said he plans to present it to city council at its May 2 meeting.
To watch Brinkley’s video and learn more about the project, visit https://bit.ly/3DX9C7l. There is also a link on the site to make an online donation to the project.
Or people can donate by check to: Town of Valdese—Wayne Owens Gym Project and mail to Valdese Parks & Recreation Department, PO Box 339, Valdese, NC 28690.
The community center is located at 312 Massel Avenue in Valdese.