Ratliff Center a huge success

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 17, 2006

In the past, when people in Demopolis said the name Theo Ratliff others immediately thought of basketball.

Now, when the name is mentioned, people think of opportunities four the city’s young people.

That’s because the center that bears the NBA star and Demopolis native’s name has grown in leaps and bounds.

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In March alone, the center hosted 1,969 visitors.

Park and Recreation director Mark Pettus said they expected large numbers when the center first opened, but were surprised to see the steady increase throughout the center’s first six months of operation.

“It’s been steady ever since we opened up,” Pettus said. “We expected a big surge when it first opened up because we knew people would be curious. But, the surge kept going.”

The center’s director, Ed Ward, said they were very surprised the numbers continued to grow. Fortunately, he said, they were still able to offer activities for everyone.

“We were stunned,” Ward said. “But fortunately, we have been able to accommodate the number of visitors with various activities for al age groups.”

Another surprise, Ward said, was the variety of visitors to the center.

“What is so fascinating is the age groups we see,” Ward said. “We have people here from kindergarten all the way to senior citizens. We are able to offer activities for all of them.”

One reason for the rise in attendance was the Spring Break activities offered. The center offered extended hours from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. throughout spring break where young people could play basketball softball, touch football, bingo and board games.

March was a big month for the center, but even without spring holidays, attendance has been steady.

Since opening in September, the center has served approximately 12,000 participants with their activities and support programs.

Most importantly, the staff without any injuries or incidents conducts services. Pettus said this was due to strong leadership.

“Ed Ward has done an outstanding job of providing them with activities,” Pettus said. “He has also done a great job of keeping incidents down. That is one of the keys to the center’s success and he has done a great job with that.”

While the center is great for young people, there are several other activities they also help with around the city.

The center hosts, West Alabama Mental Health staff training, parenting classes, life skills training classes, evening aerobics classes, and elderly exercise programs. This Ward said, was their plan from the beginning.

“One of our goals is to try to provide emotional type support such as parenting classes and anger management,” Ward said. “We want to do more than just throw out a basketball, we want social support programs. That is one of the things Theo really wanted to see happen.”

Since the demands for the center are growing, upgrades are on the way.

Offices are in the process of getting new desks and cabinets.

The center has also installed cameras to monitor the facility from the front office. Outdoor cameras are on the way to monitor outdoor activities and the parking lot.

The future of the center looks bright, Pettus said, and they plan to do whatever they can to continue to fill the needs of Demopolis’s children.

“We are expecting big things and looking for ways to expand,” Pettus said. “We always knew there was a need for this. Now, we see how great that need really was.”