New center figures to boost youth sports

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF

   A new first-class facility for the Elizabethton/Carter County Boys and Girls Club opened Monday night hoping to boost youth sports involvement in the community.
   At the former site of the East Tennessee Undergarment factory, the club's new home is a 26,000 square-foot facility complete with two gymnasiums, a computer lab, a recreation lounge, food preparation areas, offices and a library.
   "I never dreamed we would have a place this big," said Elizabethton Boys Club executive director Darrell "Pappy" Crowe. "When I looked at this place from up at "G" Street, it didn't look like there would be this much space here.
   "But once I got in here, I saw it had a tremendous amount of space. It's something to be proud of for the community and we will be able to serve more kids. It will be a clean, nice place to go."
   Crowe served as director of the Johnson City Boys Club for 22 years before coming to Elizabethton. He is glad to have such an all-encompassing facility. "We're glad to be able to have everything in house," Crowe admitted. "We should be able to host basketball tournaments real well. In the past, we've had to rent T.A. Dugger, the church, Siam plus the building at the Parks and Rec when we've had tournaments. This should be a tremendous asset to us."
   The new building impressed guest John Lee, president of the Knoxville Boys and Girls Club, the largest Boys Club organization in the state of Tennessee. "This is not indicative of facilities that you see across the country," stated Lee. "It's a very special facility. A facility like this will pull in new children. Elizabethton should be proud of what's been accomplished here.
   "You had a factory that closed and instead of having a vacant building, you have this tremendous facility."
   It's a far cry from Boys Club offices of years gone by, former Boys Club director Al King remembered. "I started coaching my oldest son in t-ball 36 years ago," recounted King. "I got a job with the Boys Club back in 1977 and two years later I was the director.
   "I never would have imagined we'd have a building like this. We had the old bakery building and everytime it rained, you had to mop the floor. With this, it's untelling how many kids they can serve. The children are our future and this is a good investment."
   While not the intent of the new building, club president Sam LaPorte says this youth center could have a benefit in attracting new businesspeople to the city. "You have facilities where kids can enjoy themselves even in bad weather," commented LaPorte. "Something like this never hurts in attracting business. It wasn't developed in any way intending to do that. You look around at what we have, what we have in the school systems, great fire and police departments, we have the infrastructure that attracts people."
   In a related item, LaPorte was awarded the National Boys and Girls Club of America Service Medallion during the building's opening ceremony. "It was quite an honor," said LaPorte. "They popped a surprise on me."
   The Boys and Girls Club have more than 60 teams, in all over 1100 youth, that currently participate in the various sports and activities that the club provides.
   Fellow board of directors member Kim Birchfield was in the club himself as a child and now is involved as a parent. "I started in the Boys Club about 1966 as a six or seven year old growing up in the city," explained Birchfield. "At the time, we were at the old Lynn Avenue school building. I played basketball and football from that day on up until playing in middle and high school.
   "Seeing that old building, the bakery building up on the hill, back to Black Bottom to the former club, this is a wonderful cycle. My children are involved in the club now. As a parent, it makes you feel proud. It came time for the sponsors to put up or shut up and they put up.
   "I'm so excited about what we have here for the kids in Carter County. It makes me proud to be a new board member. It's a top-notch facility."