Obama Sports Complex Opens to the Public

By Kimberly Shelby, Contributing Writer

July 7, 2022

Source: Los Angeles Sentinel

Photo Source: Unsplash, TD J.

THE SCENE Camp is still in session as the wiggly line of giddy, young tykes, unified in their black shirts, irrepressible in the shine of their smiles, file into their designated seats. That shine is nearly matched by the impossible gleam on the brand-new floors of the basketball court upon which they sit.

One of two—brand new. One girl seems to wonder if she can see her reflection in that spot of sheen beneath her. She shuffles her feet in delight. The gesture travels like a wave across the row of campers. They know that this is theirs. Visible across the courtyard leading to the east wing of this newly revamped structure, a family’s four faces are pressed against the glass window in anticipation of the moment, imminent, when they, too, will dive headlong into the Olympic-sized pool on the other side. They know that this is theirs.

A bold noise calls attention back to the court. A drum line enters, steadfast and ready. Politicians, press and key members of the local community take their seats and marvel at the performance. The teenaged musicians proceed with pride. They know that this is theirs. Mayor Eric Garcetti says it himself as he stands before an audience of hundreds who’ve gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Complex at Rancho Cienega Park on the afternoon of June 28.

“Now you’re going to [have] the largest pool in the system, this is the first year when you can play concurrent games at the same time…you can even have seniors and others, joggers on the jogging track…all right here, with the tennis courts, with the Dodgers Dreamfield, with the football field…this is the complete package for everyone…this is yours! Enjoy it, community,” says Garcetti.

He is talking about the $50 million renovation of a facility that spans over 24-acres and consists of that new Olympic-size indoor pool with bathhouse, an indoor gym featuring two high school basketball courts, a mezzanine walking track, a fitness annex, a multi-use community room, and staff offices.

After three long years of the center being closed, in South L.A., where park space far from abounds, under the guidance of City Councilmember Herb Wesson, a dream has become an unparalleled destination. “Equity matters,” Wesson says. “And it is our responsibility to make sure that communities of color have access to clean and safe parks and outdoor spaces. I’m proud to have played a role in providing a state-of-the-art facility in the city of Los Angeles.”

THE STRUCTURE Puce? No. Copper? Closer (and it did cost a pretty penny). But ochre, yes, the earliest known pigment made from sand and clay found on a colony by the Black Sea and in areas of Italy, Australia, India, France and North Africa — this is the color one is gripped by when approaching 5001 Obama Boulevard, where the new Michelle and Barack Obama Sports Complex now stands.

Ochre is sacred. Red ochre is a central component in the initiation ceremony of young boys when they become men in Aboriginal and other cultures. It’s appropriate that the steel façade of the Obama Sports Complex would be awash in such color, as it is here in this world-class recreation center, unprecedented in the scope of its offerings, that boys will become men, and girls women over the course of decades to come through the many activities this distinguished facility now makes possible, through the refuge it offers. L.A. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who played a critical role by ushering in the $10 million donation for renovation of all 350 L.A. public basketball courts, noted, “We hear a lot of stories from our players, kids who are now adults, who grew up, essentially, in a rec center.”

There possibly hasn’t been one so meticulously renovated and appointed in Los Angeles history. One of the largest park investments in the district, the sustainable design by SPF Architects features detail extending to drought-tolerant landscaping with rocks that echo the building’s façade.

They’re ensuring that the facility uses “net zero” energy through EV charging stations and a greywater re-use and stormwater infiltration system. This exceeds the City-mandated LEED silver certification level.

But then it was a celebration of “firsts” that led to this, as Garcetti recalls the Rancho Cienega Recreation Center (the name by which the complex was formerly known) being one of the first sites where Senator Barack Obama held a campaign rally in 2007, just days after announcing his run for the presidency.

“That idea that he planted that America could be better, could reflect all of us, radiated right here from this hallowed ground,” Garcetti recalls. “When Council President Herb Wesson said, ‘I think we should rename Rodeo after the Obamas,’ we made history and made this street recognize the first Black president in this country’s history. But we knew we could go further.”

Further they went, indeed.

THE FUTURE In addition to the above-referenced amenities, universal playground equipment is to be installed on the turf as one of many recreational offerings for the children of the area.

Recreation Facility Director Phillip Wiley is certain the upgraded center will positively impact kids’ lives. “It means a lot…we’re so happy for the kids…we [used to have] to schedule… we only had one court; now we have two more courts, so we can have more kids and have more games.”

Wiley’s official schedule is for 5 days, but he’s usually there every day. “It’s only because of the love I have for the kids. I lost my parents at a young age…so I went to gang-banging…I had a park director take a chance on me. That’s why this department means so much, because I want to give back.”

Anthony Watson, a local sports photographer from Baldwin Hills, who was also in attendance at the opening, says the complex has played an integral role in his life. “I have coached there as well as watched my son develop there like so many other kids. The sports complex is the epicenter for youth athletics, and I have captured moments in athletic competition since 2003.”

Watson was struck by nostalgia as he captured photos of the center’s demolition a few years ago, ”because the building housed so many memories.”

But he notes, “The upgraded sports complex is awesome and was sorely needed! ‘Rancho’ is a hub for our community and will serve as a catalyst for the inner-city youth to step into [the] future and to be the future. It’s like a big family, and everyone keeps an eye out for the kids.”

Wesson can certainly be counted among those keeping an eye out. “This facility is for everybody,” Wesson said.

“We’ve got a contraption in the pool that can pick up a senior in a wheelchair and get them out. You name it, we got it, so it’s for everybody, but to me it’s for the little nuggets.”

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