The possibility that the Anne Springs Close Complex on the Greenway, aka “The Complex,” may close in a few years is particularly difficult for many to accept. Some members are lobbying local elected officials to step in and save the privately-owned recreation center because members say it is more than a place to exercise — it’s a community. In our series, the Fort Mill Times journeys to the heart of The Complex to tell the stories of everyday moments that turn into lifetime bonds.
Second in a series
It likely wasn’t the first time Ryan Thomas’ kid sister told him what to do, but after listening to her, the 16-year-old said he was certainly glad he took her advice.
Riley Thomas, 13, discovered Billy McKinney’s tennis program at The Complex a couple of years before her brother; but in all fairness, Riley does plan to go pro one day. Calling Serena Williams her idol, she said, “I try to practice as much as I can.”
And soon enough, Ryan found his way to the Anne Springs Close Complex on the Greenway to try it out himself — and he did not regret it. In fact, he said tennis serves as a meditation of sorts for him.
“I just love the sport,” he said. “This just feels like a place where I can be me. I can just kinda let everything go.”
The siblings live in Wesley Chapel, N.C. For them and many other players, The Complex serves as an outlet, a way to let off some steam on the courts, learn discipline and spend time with friends.
The Thomas siblings aren’t the only ones who travel for McKinney’s program: on a recent evening, many of the students polled were not from Fort Mill.
"Actually, I live in Charlotte."
"I live in Waxhaw."
"I live in Ballantyne."
"Wesley Chapel, N.C.”
McKinney, a former tennis coach at Nation Ford High School who once took the Falcons all the way to the state finals, said this is because The Complex is so centrally located for many parents.
“We’re not just limited to South Carolina,” he said.
Children and adults from all over keep McKinney and his other coaches busy with summer camps during the day, classes in the evening and daily private lessons. McKinney, with a big authority and a bigger sense of humor, has been bringing tennis to the lives of children and adults for 13 years.
The tennis courts are clearly McKinney’s domain. He said students are taught not only tennis, but respect, confidence and life lessons.
“We are out here all the time making kids get better,” he said.
Humor and discipline
This particular day, McKinney worked the crowd of 9 to18-year-olds, playing on their fears and laughter. He even told them the Fort Mill Times said they had to do 25,000 push-ups. Without hesitation, the kids all dropped and gave him… approximately 10.
Twelve-year-old Alan Chen of Waxhaw, N.C., performed his calisthenics even as cameras were rolling on him. After his push-ups were complete, he was full of thoughts about how tennis has changed his life.
“When I first started coming here, I wasn’t conditioned to be an athlete,” he said.
“I could barely do a push-up. It’s progress. That’s what we all need in life, I guess.”
Having skills never hinders the amount of joy this sport offers, as evident by Alyse Davis, 11, of Fort Mill.
“This is my favorite sport. I’m very good at it,” she said. “My dad got me hooked on it.”
Home, at The Complex and in their houses
McKinney said the court is where the lessons begin, but home is where they continue.
“The best part is the change with them at home when the parents come and tell us,” he said. “We’re like second parents. Our motto is ‘making great players and great character at the same time.’”
The courts themselves feel like home for many of the players.
Ian Bircak, 17, of Fort Mill, said he has years of memories of The Complex built up at and is saddened by the idea the recreation center may close.
“From the early days, I was here at the pool with my mom a lot,” Bircak said.
Now, he frequents the weight room, plays basketball with friends, and works with tennis camps.
“I’ve been here a lot over my life,” he said. “It’ll hold a special place in my heart.”
McKinney said The Complex feels like home for him as well. In fact, Director Tammy Woods is the only reason he brought his program back to Fort Mill after teaching in Weddington, N.C., for a couple of years.
“I knew what type of program could be produced, with one of the greatest directors there is,” he said. “Now the program speaks for itself. Tammy and the front desk employees are my family.”
McKinney was told that if The Complex does close, the Town of Fort Mill may be building new courts. They will need to be built relatively quickly, McKinney said, or he will likely relocate his program to Lancaster, where he lives.
McKinney said the courts at The Complex, resurfaced about 10 years ago, need some upkeep again.
“The only hindrance is the current condition of the tennis courts, not being able to do league play, tournaments, etc.”
Still, even with cracked courts, it’s been a positive experience.
“Personally, it has allowed me the opportunity to meet wonderful people and develop some amazing friendships and achieve the goal of being an entrepreneur,” he said. “Now, many of the students taking lessons have developed close-knit friendships as well.”
Parents echo McKinney’s sentiment. The Complex needs to stay, said Joe Davis, Alyse Davis’ dad.
“You gotta have something for the kids. I grew up in a neighborhood with a Boys & Girls Club. You gotta give the kids something to do,” he said.
The courts are a popular spot for adults as well. In addition to classes offered for adults, coach Tim Daniel said parents often squeeze in their own workouts — they will drop their kids off for class and then hit some balls themselves on the upper courts.
Spending time at The Complex for the sake of the kids is something to which parent Davis is no stranger.
“Each one of my kids do activities here — swim team, tennis, basketball. I’m out here every day, Monday to Friday. They keep me busy,” he said.
“I enjoy it. As long as they’re happy, then Daddy’s happy.”
Melissa Oyler: @melissaoyler