Recreational Center coming to Springfield’s south side

Facility will offer activities for youth to deal with anger and aggression as well as focusing on mental health, says Springfield native who’s leading efforts.

A proposed recreational center in the southside of Springfield focusing on local students from elementary to high school hopes to start offering some programs as soon as October.

Springfield native James Cooper is leading efforts on getting the recreation center open and it will be located in the Southern Village shopping center. It will be located right next to the Ohio License Bureau Southside.

The goal is to have some offerings available in the next few weeks.

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Cooper said that the first program they will be rolling out is weekly boxing lessons. The idea is to then add a lounge area, a basketball court and other opportunities for students with the goal of providing a safe space for them after school.

“It will help them work through their frustrations in a way that won’t play out in the streets. We want them to leave that pain here,” Cooper said.

He noted that the center would be within walking distance of Hayward Middle School, which is part of the Springfield City School District. The center will be sustained by a monthly fee paid by students’ families or through the aid of local sponsors.

So far that fee will be for the boxing lessons that will be offered.

However, the main thrust behind the project is lessons baked into offerings such as boxing and eventually basketball that teach students ways to deal with anger, aggression as well as focusing on mental health.

A former basketball player, Cooper also teaches basketball lessons unrelated to the proposed recreational center and it was through that he was notified about available space for rent at Southern Village.

He said that he was able to find 12,000 square feet of open space that can easily be renovated and boxing lessons could commence as soon as next month.

The inspiration behind the recreational center in the southside comes from Cooper’s past.

Cooper starred at South High School in the early 2000s as a basketball player, earning a scholarship to the College of Wooster, where he became one of the school’s all-time leading scorers and hall of fame inductee.

He used that experience recently to help connect with local young men through the creation of the nonprofit Brake the Cycle in January. The idea was to use his basketball and life skills as building blocks to help facilitate discussions and workshops around many issues young men may face in the city.

The recreational center will be a continuation of that work as he noted that he experienced the hardships of growing up in a low income part of the city with limited resources and an absentee father.

He noted that basketball was an escape for him and he wants to create a similar environment for those facing similar hardships that he once faced in his youth.

Cooper said that he wanted to create a space that will help young people navigate through feelings of anger and aggression as well as trauma while keeping them off of the streets.

He was inspired to pursue that work following the murder of his younger brother George Walker Jr., who died from a gunshot wound in 2014.

The goal of the recreational center that will be named in Walker’s honor is to provide a space for students after school that includes sports lessons as well as mentorship opportunities.

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He is working with a boxing instructor for the center’s first offerings and has been in discussions with a number of community institutions such as Cedarville, Wittenberg and Clark State universities as well as the Juvenile Detention Center and the Springfield Police Division.

Cooper said that so far they have 15 students that are signed up and more that have expressed interest in the center’s first program, which will be boxing lessons that also teach coping skills.

The monthly fee for the recreational center will be $150, with the goal of getting local sponsors to cover some of those costs.

Cooper said that they hope to have the boxing lessons offered through the recreational center by the end of October and will be gradually expand offerings in the near future.

“The classes will allow us to sustain this and build it out,” he added, noting the goal is to apply for grants in the future.

Writer Brett Turner contributed to this story.

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