Gym in a Jam

A shoe sits in the rain gutter at the MLK Center gym in McComb, Miss. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
A shoe sits in the rain gutter at the MLK Center gym in McComb, Miss. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

Carrie Wells, 63, has lived at the same lot on Martin Luther King Drive since she was 13.

Friends and family often congregate on her front porch and enjoy leisurely afternoons in the fresh air and sunshine, but a large teal building is what they see when they gaze across the road — a dilapidated gymnasium no one has entered in at least five years.

The Martin Luther King Complex consists of a seldom-used community center, a condemned gym, two tennis courts and a splash pad. The splash pad is the most used of the four facilities, followed by the tennis courts. The property is owned by the City of McComb and managed by the Recreation Department.

The community center, which was renovated in 2004 with the hefty price tag of $741,000 to include a $60,000

By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal
By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal

industrial-grade kitchen that’s never been used for cooking, and additional bathrooms, is closed to the public except for rentals.

Former Mayor Tom Walman’s plan was to make the complex “first class,” but less than 10 years later, it couldn’t be further from his hopes.

The gym, which was rebuilt in 1978 after the original was destroyed during the devastating tornado in January 1975 that tore through Pike County and surrounding areas, has been condemned since 2009 and is an eyesore to the community and the city.

No one, including city officials, is allowed inside.

The site looks more like a shelter in a post-apocalyptic world than a place where children used to play. Three of the four windows on the entrances are busted and the ground is covered in bottle tops, glass shards and general rubbish.

Chairs, glass, debris, and water lay on the ground inside the MLK Center gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
Chairs, glass, debris, and water lay on the ground inside the MLK Center gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

The basketball court, once used for summer leagues and talent shows, is now strewn with broken glass and water. A basketball hoop dangles from the ceiling, reminiscent of the days when players hung from the rims after a jaw-dropping slam dunk. Folding chairs are bent and overturned. Trash and clothing are scattered across the entry ways.

The exterior walls are tagged with graffiti, and massive holes in the cinderblocks are visible from quite a distance.

Inside and out, the gym has fallen into deplorable condition, and Burglund residents only have one question — why?

“They’ve condemned something that needed to be,” Wells said. “That (gym) needed to be. It’s not a should be, it’s a need to be.”

To say that the complex has a complicated history is an understatement. City board members have battled for decades over the allocation of funds for repairs to the gym.

By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

Discussions for the additional 3 percent tax on hotel rooms in McComb began in 1996, but the measure was struck down for years at the local and state levels. Nine years later, Gov. Haley Barbour signed the McComb hotel tax bill, but by that point, the language to use those funds for the gym had been removed.

In 1997, Walker’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church asked the board if they could use the building. Soon after, Quordiniah Lockley, the current city administrator and a Walker’s Chapel member, was appointed project director for a smaller scale renovation than the gym needed.

The city donated $10,000 to the $11,300 project, and volunteers from Walker’s Chapel raised the remaining monies through fundraisers, including raffling an autographed Scottie Pippen jersey.

And while Walker’s Chapel and Lockley did what was possible with the money they had at the time, it could only go so far.

“They ran tournaments out of there, but it didn’t erase the fact that the building was out of code and it was just substandard,” said Warren Ellis Gilmore, a former McComb selectman who represented Ward 5, where the gym is located.

A $9.5 million bond issue was approved in July 2008 but was rescinded barely a month later. It would have given $269,200 to the gym for roof repairs plus other structural and cosmetic issues. Without the bond issue the renovations never came, and the gym was condemned the following year.

Despite the gym being closed for half a decade of its 35-year existence, Burglund residents still hope the center and the gym will once again be open for public use.

A few years ago, the Recreation Department had a full-time staff member at the center to bring in programs and activities, but due to budget cuts, that option is not financially feasible right now, says director Joseph Parker. The department oversees 11 parks but only has 10 employees.

Many community members believe the gym is not only a place for recreation and entertainment, but also a place for neighborhood children to go instead of aimlessly wandering the area.

Jaton Isaac remembers looking forward to games and events in the gym when she was a child, but that was 25 years ago. Today, children don’t have that luxury.

“There’s a lot of kids in this area,” said Isaac, 37. “But there’s nothing for them to do but walk the tracks and get into trouble.”

There are no other parks in the Burglund area, and the splash pad is only open May through September, leaving the local children nothing to do and nowhere to go during the other seven months.

“All children can be bad,” Wells said. “If they don’t have nothin’ to do, they’re gonna find something to get into. If they put the gym back over here, it would help.”

After a tense town hall meeting in the community center in June, citizens demanded answers about why the rent at the community center was so high and why the gym was left to decay.

Selectwoman Andranette Jordan, Selectman-at-Large Tommy McKenzie, and Selectwoman Tammy Witherspoon formed a committee to work through ideas for the community center and gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.
Selectwoman Andranette Jordan, Selectman-at-Large Tommy McKenzie, and Selectwoman Tammy Witherspoon formed a committee to work through ideas for the community center and gym. By Philip Hall, Enterprise-Journal.

Current Ward 5 Selectwoman Andranette Jordan, in conjunction with Selectman-at-Large Tommy McKenzie and Ward 3 Selectwoman Tammy Witherspoon, held a small meeting Monday to find out what locals wanted to see happen with the property.

While many ideas were kicked about, including trying to reopen the community center and provide programs for the Burglund residents, no one has any plans to touch the gym with no funds budgeted for either renovation or demolition.

“We’ve looked at options but have not agreed on what path to take — to demolish it, renovate it or turn it into a pavilion,” Lockley said.

“Either fix it, or tear it down,” James Cotton, 92, said, an echo of hundreds of other residents when the topic comes up.

But, more often than not, residents choose to favor the renovation option.

“I wish they would renovate it and use it,” Wells said. “We’re taxpayers. They should take some of our tax money and do what we need done.”

Jordan and her Burglund neighbors hope to one day see the Martin Luther King Complex make a comeback and be a staple for the community, but for now, it sits, waiting for a day it may never see.

Photos by Philip Hall

@ Enterprise-Journal — McComb, Miss.

New cinema minor slated for fall semester

Six months ago, Alan Arrivee took a position in a state he’d never lived in to help students achieve their potential and to share his passion for cinema.

He barely has what any student at Ole Miss would consider a proper office, but Arrivee doesn’t let his lack of equipment or space diminish his spirit or determination.

In the fall, a cinema minor will be added to the Liberal Arts catalogue for any student who wants to turn their love of movies into a career.

The minor will require 18 hours to complete. There are two required courses – one in the English department and one in theater – followed by several options to fulfill the remaining 12 hours of electives necessary to receive the minor.

One of the required courses delves into the basics of film production while the other focuses more on the theoretical aspects of the film production process.

“People who don’t ever want to hear about analyzing a film have to, and people who think picking up a camera is too much like a trade school activity, they have to, so they at least understand the perspective of both sides,” Arrivee said.

Beyond these two requirements, the courses range from film-acting courses to courses about films in most modern languages, such as Russian, Spanish and German.

After winning multiple awards in film festivals around the world, including the European Independent Film Festival, Arrivee is more than qualified to spearhead such an undertaking in the Ole Miss community, but he is not alone in his efforts.

Twenty other professors from departments all over campus are on board with the cinema minor and are teaching many of the courses.

While only 20 people have expressed interest thus far, “it’s a good number to start with,” Arrivee said.

Not only will students get to make their own films, but they will also have the ability to have the films screened both on campus and potentially at Oxford Film Festival.

“It’s only natural for cinema that there’s an audience, so we’re not trying to make it a filmmaker’s workshop where the only people who critique the films are in class,” Arrivee said. “There are in-class projects that don’t necessarily go any place else, but I always remind the students if something turns out of really high quality, then we’ll include it in the cinema slot in the theater season.”

This season, the theater department will encourage students to attend screenings done by Arrivee and students participating in the Ole Miss Film Competition.

Silent Radio, a short film by Arrivee, and three other short films done by the winners of the Ole Miss Film Competition will be screened April 7 through 9 in Meek Auditorium.

Jordan Berger and Houston Settle, junior theater majors from Chattanooga, Tenn., have won the competition before and have become a true “power couple” in the Ole Miss cinema scene.

While Settle has been seen on screen in more than his fair share of short films, Berger can often be found behind the camera concentrating on the cinematography. Despite his lack of previous acting experience, Berger understands the importance of being able to look at films from all angles.

“I definitely want to get the feel for the acting aspect of it,” Berger said. “Even if you’re the director, you’ve got to know how to communicate with your actors.”

The film they are creating for this semester is loosely based on the album “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, which is itself loosely based on a series of dreams about Anne Frank.

“For so long, we’ve talked about wanting to make a short film, and now we get that opportunity,” Settle said. “If (Arrivee) hadn’t come along, we probably wouldn’t be making this film at all.”

Having taken cinema courses in the past, they are grateful for all that Arrivee has put into the program for the benefit of his students.

“Last year, he got people making all sorts of films in his classes,” Settle said. “Everybody was making short films, I think that’s what really started motivating people. Once they saw their projects, they realized they could really do this.”

Berger and Settle are both in the documentary fieldwork course this semester and are already thinking about how to put the material to good use.

“Next year, we want to make a full-length documentary about the nightlife in Oxford, like the world through the eyes of an Ole Miss student,” Settle said. “You know, show a bit of a darker side.”

Above all, Arrivee wants to reach as many students as possible and become more involved in the program.

“I’m promoting the program openly,” Arrivee said. “I want people to get involved in this and take the plunge and say one of the things I want to study is cinema. However much interest there is will be however much commitment there is from the University as a whole.”

Students wishing to declare a minor in cinema should go to Ventress Hall during the first few days of the fall semester and register. For more information on the minor, visit Arrivee in Isom Hall or check out the website at http://olemiss.edu/depts/theatre_arts/.

Study USA classes offer abroad experience at home

Study USA programs are short-term, domestic travel classes offered on a variety of topics during intersession terms.

Ole Miss offers four to six different classes during each intersession and has an estimated 30 classes total.

Laura Antonow, program director for Study USA, has devoted much of her time to this program, working to increase courses and include more areas of study so more students can attend.

“It’s a great learning experience for both students and faculty,” Antonow said. “When students learn with multiple senses, they retain things better and it certainly makes it more interesting.”

The program began three years ago in conjunction with the Study Abroad office. It has since been moved into its own program.

Study USA is devoted to creating classes for students, helping them experience their potential careers in action and get field experience before graduation.

Financial aid is available for Study USA classes, and they are in the process of creating a scholarship for the program as well.

”Some students can’t afford to go abroad, and some students don’t want to go abroad,” Antonow said. “Those are both legitimate reasons to consider this program, but the most important reason to consider it is there are really cool things to do in the U.S.”

Taylor Thomas, senior hospitality management major, has been waiting her entire college career to be eligible for the Las Vegas course.

“I have to have this class to graduate, and I’ve been waiting to take it in Vegas since my freshman year,” Thomas said. “You have to be 21 to go on this trip, so I’ve been waiting for three years now.”

For the Las Vegas Hotel Course, students spend seven days in Las Vegas visiting hotel casinos and touring their restaurants and nightclubs to develop an understanding of how hotel operations work.

“I’ll be learning about my field in the field, and the ‘cream of the crop’ of the field at that,” Thomas said. “To me, education doesn’t get much better than that.”

These courses have a different setup from the average lecture course. Some professors require the students to keep a journal of their experiences, while others require final exams and research papers.

The Culture and Tourism in New Orleans course lasts almost two full weeks. These students study popular culture, folk culture and high culture.

Other classes, however, such as the biology course in Miami, are a little different – students take lectures in Oxford before traveling to Miami for fieldwork.

“We can go out one night and potentially find a 15-foot python crossing the road,” Brice Noonan, assistant professor of biology said. “There are places where we can go right down on South Beach where we can walk around and see six-foot iguanas in the grass.”

There are two Study USA classes taking place during this semester, and they will each be traveling for less than a week later in November. These classes study in Oxford the majority of the semester and travel to conventions and shows for only a brief part of the semester.

“It’s a great networking opportunity for the students,” Antonow said. “It really allows them to put what they’ve been learning in the classroom and see it applied to the real world.”

The deadline for Study USA applications for Wintersession is Nov. 15.