Tampa dedicates new Police Athletic League gym

Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson, center, and defensive back Keith Tandy have a team huddle with kids Tuesday in the new Police Athletic League of Tampa recreation center for at-risk children.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson, center, and defensive back Keith Tandy have a team huddle with kids Tuesday in the new Police Athletic League of Tampa recreation center for at-risk children.

TAMPA — Before, when it rained, they had to pull out buckets.

Games of basketball were dangerous. Dashes to classrooms in portable buildings were treacherous. But at least those buildings didn't have termites.

Dennis Miller, 17, has lots of good memories of the old Police Athletic League gym in Tampa, near Sligh and Armenia avenues. He and his friends would make up games and play four square.

But this new building is awesome, he says.

On Tuesday, a group of Tampa leaders dedicated the new $4 million gym made possible by donations from philanthropists John and Susan Sykes and the Sykes Enterprises Charitable Foundation, along with $1.2 million in seized drug money.

The new 25,000-square-foot space at 1924 W Diana St. has a large six-hoop basketball court, weight room, recreational area, computer room and a martial arts space.

No need for portable buildings. No more termites or leaking roof.

The local Police Athletic League director Phil Ray says he still cannot believe it.

"I call it the miracle on Diana Street," he said Tuesday.

It all came together several years ago, when the league's board realized they had to tear down the old building. Built in the 1940s, it was old and the cost of repairs meant razing the building made more sense.

The league, which offers after-school and summer programs for about 500 children, raised nearly $400,000, "which was enough to building a parking lot," Ray said.

Police Chief Jane Castor, who is on the league's board, took their concerns to John Sykes, and within two months, the money came together, Ray said.

Many of the children the league serves are considered underprivileged or "at-risk." Giving them a constructive way to spend their time helps build futures and reduces crime, Castor said.

Speaking before a small crowd at Tuesday's dedication, Castor called it one of the crowning achievements of her tenure as police chief.

"This will be here long after I'm gone, for generations to come," she said. "This will shape the lives of children in this community."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa dedicates new Police Athletic League gym 03/19/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:27am]

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