Fifteen minutes before the new Crane Creek Community Center gym opened Thursday, a dozen young people were standing outside, ready to rush in and shoot the basketball.
The shiny gym already served as the classic example of what a public recreation center should be. More than 50 people packed the gym within 30 minutes of its 2 p.m. opening, yet only three vehicles were in the parking lot. Most of the people inside had walked from the nearby neighborhoods — Lincolnshire, Hollywood Hills, Fairfield Terrace and Rockgate are all within an easy stroll.
The Crane Creek community for years has asked for more recreation outlets for its children. They knew the need was there, and they were right. After the 10 a.m. ceremonial grand opening event Dec. 19, several neighborhood residents wanted to start playing right away. Park manager Randolph Anderson had to tell them to go home and come back at 2 p.m., when the gym would open for the afternoon.
“I’ve been here every day, and I’m talking about packed, every day,” said Jermaine Washington, 21, whose mother lives across the street from the gym. “The neighborhood was so boring. Now everybody comes out to the gym.”
Ten people at a time play in the highly competitive full-court basketball games on the goals closest to the front door. At the other end of the gym, there’s usually a less structured four-on-four half court game at the center goal. Younger kids and those who aren’t playing in a game shoot at the other two goals, with errant balls often rolling into the middle of the four-on-four game.
It gets so crowded so quickly that Kyla Powell, 15, usually just sits in the bleachers and watches others. But Thursday, she arrived early with her younger brother, sister and cousin so they could shoot around for a few minutes before the serious players arrived.
“I was excited when they told us it was open,” Powell said. “Every time I’ve been down here, it’s been jam-packed. Everybody in the neighborhood comes here.”
Torri Boyd, 31, stopped by for the first time Thursday and liked what he saw. He just wished he could see more. “I was hoping the gym would be bigger,” he said. “They need more goals.”
Years ago, the former Crane Creek Elementary School was given to the Richland County Recreation Commission, which converted it into a multi-use facility. Renamed the Crane Creek Community Center, it houses meeting rooms, a cafeteria/auditorium, a sheriff’s substation and the Carolina School for Inquiry, a public charter school.
But community leaders also wanted a gym. They persuaded the recreation agency to include the gym among the projects paid for with a $50 million bond approved by county council in 2008.
Built at the south end of the former school, the gym cost about $2.1 million. It’s far from fancy — simply an office, two restrooms and a gym. A few pieces of exercise equipment are set up to the side of the entrance area.
The gym offers only pickup basketball now. Anderson plans to begin a Hot Shots league for ages 4-6 in late January. Adult leagues and fundamental classes should begin by summer. Other programs such as volleyball and exercise classes will be added when there’s sufficient demand.
For now, it’s all about basketball. The first day the gym was to open happened to be the last day of school before Christmas break for Richland 1 schools. A few players older than school age showed up at 2 p.m. before the flood began as schools let out. Nearly 100 people showed up that first afternoon, Anderson said.
“It’s been like that every day,” he said. “It’s smack-dab in the middle of four neighborhoods, and they didn’t have any gyms nearby.”
If neighborhood kids wanted to go to a public gym in the past, they usually had to catch rides with parents or friends to Denny Terrace or Meadowlake parks. Now, they can walk or ride a bike to the gym anytime they want. And they apparently want to often.