BOZICH | Darrell Griffith Athletic Center primed to sparkle at West End School
Male High star state champion and Dirt Bowl legend. University of Louisville national champion. Utah Jazz sharpshooter. The guy who forever made vertical jump part of the basketball conversation.
Consider all of those things additional proof that the $2 million-plus facility will open on time by the end of September.
But there is one more moment that has even Griffith counting the days:
“I can't wait to see the day the boys go in the gym to play ball and see they have a home gym to play in,” Griffith said.
“I'm appreciative of every recognition that I've gotten throughout my whole career. But none is more heart-warming and [makes him] more proud than being recognized by your community.
“To have something in the area and the community that you grew up in and more importantly it's going to make a difference in kid's lives.
“This gym is bigger than me. It's about these kids, it's about the boys who come through this school, giving them opportunities, showing them where athletics can fit in their lives [and] combining the two, they can turn out to be model citizens.”
Griffith grew up three blocks from the facility, which is tucked at 36th and Virginia. Kids like Muhammad Ali, Alice Houston and Griffith learned to read and compete there, when it known as Carter Elementary.
About a decade ago, a group of community leaders, led by businessmen Paul Perconti and Junior Bridgeman, as well as Griffith, started transforming the facility into the West End School, a free, private facility for disadvantaged youths. They recruited Robert Blair, who had retired from Kentucky Country Day, and his wife, Debbie, to administer the school.
The first class included three students. They studied in a home at 17th and Muhammad Ali. The current enrollment includes 60 boys in the pre-kindergarten through second grade as well as 30 students in grades six-through-eight. The middle school students live on the grounds in the boarding facility Monday through Friday.
Ahmad Neal, an eighth-grader, is one of those students. Neal attended John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Park DuValle through the fifth grade. Neal admitted that sometimes he found trouble. A minister convinced Neal's mother to try to enroll Ahmad at the West End School. He visited, applied and was accepted.
“It has changed my life because I think I have a better opportunity of going to a better school than I did at public schools,” Neal said. “I've improved very much in reading and math since we have study hall at the school with Mr. Blair. He's pushing on me to not give up and be a leader at the school.”
Neal wants to follow the 18 West End grads that are currently attending private high schools in Louisville – as well as the six grads who earned college scholarships last spring.
But first Neal is ready to play basketball in the Griffith Athletic Center. All of the players on the West End team are. For eight seasons, the team has never played a home game. On many days, regardless of the weather, the team practiced outside on the asphalt parking lot.
That will change. In fact, Griffith has plans to organize a City League as well as a local tournament for the new facility. There will be seats for about 350 spectators.
Ahmad Neal – and Ahmad's teammates – are ready to entertain.
“We've all been trying to go outside and look at the construction and try to look inside at the view,” Neal said. “We can kind of imagine what it's going to be like. [We] just can't wait.”
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