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Eight years later, his dream is realized

Twenty years after helping Coach Bear Bryant win a national football championship at the University of Alabama, Allen Crumbley still looks as if he could play defensive back. Real estate is his game now, and he's probably lost a few steps of speed. But he's solid.

As Crumbley stood tall last week and looked out over the large crowd gathered to dedicate the new YMCA, his tough-guy image softened considerably. His deep voice cracked with emotion.

"Something this significant," he said, "you know the good Lord must have had a hand in it."

Crumbley, chairman of the YMCA's board of managers, was hardly alone in the moist eyes department. This ceremony was the culmination of eight years of planning and community fund raising, "the most ambitious in the history of Pasco County," beamed Dewey Mitchell, the former Olympian who led the committee that secured more than $4-million.

Mitchell, who was a star linebacker at Alabama with Crumbley and is now his business partner, grew up on the property where this beautiful 31,000-square-foot recreation center sits. He rode horses on trails where a city is blossoming, a city called Trinity.

Its creator is renowned eye surgeon Dr. James P. Gills. With his family gathered at the ceremony, Gills was honored to have the colorful new edition to the Suncoast Family YMCA complex named after him. He donated the 30 acres to get the dream rolling.

As a developer, Gills has changed the face of southwest Pasco. Trinity will have 22,000 homes, and the YMCA is just one of many projects transforming the old Mitchell pastureland. From poolside, you can see children playing at Seven Springs Middle School and heavy machinery clearing the way for a new high school. Attractive homes, smooth new highways, a medical center, college campus and championship golf course are all part of the dramatic change.

Imagine what it must be like to be Dr. Gills, looking down from that podium over his own city. There's a computer game that allows you to plan, build and operate a town, but Gills gets to do it for real. He is a driven, spiritual man who devoted much of his speech to the value of physical and mental balance and of "glorifying God in your body, mind and work."

As Gills spoke, Jim Mitchell leaned on a pillar. He had just taken a tour of the facility, at one point carefully tapping the shiny hardwood gym floor with his cowboy boot. He followed his son Dewey through the maze of exercise machines, an indoor children's playground, an aerobics class and the cardiac and physical therapy rehabilitation clinic that Morton Plant Mease operates on the site.

It was kind of like following around Ben Cartwright, the proud rancher watching the inevitable consumption of his land, but pleased with at least some of the results.

"This is really something," Mitchell said as families enjoyed the facility, unattached to the throng of community big shots gathered for the event. The popularity of YMCAs was reinforced when this one opened with 3,000 members.

There were so many people who had devoted energy and money to get to this day that ceremony organizers conducted five ribbon cuttings.

"The YMCA is the most exciting place for character development in the world," boasted Steve Tarver, chief executive officer for the Suncoast Family YMCAs Inc. He recalled the eight years leading to the grand opening and said, "What was the magic? Clearly it was the passion of our volunteers. Dewey would simply not be denied."

Dewey Mitchell gave special note to the construction team of Alan Bomstein, Sol Fleischman, Lew Friedland, William DiMarino, Tim Ackerman, Alan Holderith, John Nelson, Doug Jay and Mike Noble.

And when his old friend Crumbley gushed with emotional pride, he dabbed his own eyes.

"When you see this and what it means for children and families," he said, "you know it was worth all the effort. The dream is now reality."