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Center draws crowds, praise

But Brooksville's Jerome Brown center could be adjusted to be better suited for children, some say.

Leonard White, as he moved around a pool table eying his next shot Wednesday afternoon, listed all the things he likes about the Jerome Brown Community Center.

It offers a game room with foosball, pool, table hockey and board games, a basketball court, opportunities to socialize, and _ most important _ freedom, the 14-year-old Brooksville resident said.

"We don't have to worry about our parents calling us: "Come here, Leonard' and I'm like, "What does she want?' "

When the community center opened in May, it represented a landmark for Brooksville. The center was built with donations from the community and NFL players, many of whom had played with Brown _ a football star with Hernando High School, the University of Miami and the Philadelphia Eagles.

What the center did not represent was a real refuge for bored young people. It had no games, leagues or regularly scheduled classes. Now it has all three, said JoAnne Munford, one of two part-time recreation leaders who work at the center.

"I think it's going great, considering it's only been a few months," Munford said.

"I was in there (Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.) and the place was packed," said David Pugh, Brooksville's parks and recreation director. "I am absolutely ecstatic about it."

It is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every weekday, said Emilia Raia, program coordinator. The classes include tai chi, Jazzercise, painting, kickboxing and a related fitness-oriented class called "just kicking-it." After a break for the holidays, these classes will resume their normal schedule Tuesday.

The center also has men's basketball during the lunch hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and volleyball on Thursday evenings.

Most of the classes are available to all ages, Munford said, but children are not allowed at the center on weekdays until early afternoon so activities do not conflict with regular school hours.

Pugh said the city also is making an effort to address two criticisms of the center _ that it is not open on weekends, when it is most needed, and that it is inaccessible to children, especially those in southern Brooksville.

It is staffed by Raia, Munford, who works part time, and another part-time recreation leader, former Hernando High football player Joe Maner. The city is looking at adding to the staff to allow it to open on weekends, Pugh said.

"We hope, eventually, to open on Saturdays," he said.

Pugh said he is trying to find money to pay for a van that can serve as a shuttle bus to pick up children from all over the city and return them to their neighborhoods.

"We want to do that through the entire city," Pugh said.

He hopes someone in the community will donate a van or some money to buy one.

"I think it's going to come. It's just like the community center," he said. The center was built with $300,000 in contributions, as well as donated services and materials.

Munford said the children who use the building have been good about observing rules such as a ban on food and drink in some parts of the center. This has helped keep the building with the green-and-white color scheme that matches Brown's Eagles uniform as clean as it was when it opened.

That's because, the young people who use it say, they know they have a good thing.

"I've been here two times and I like it a lot," said Josh Brooks, 11.