The possibility that the Anne Springs Close Complex on the Greenway, aka “The Complex,” may close in a few years is difficult for many to accept. Some members are lobbying local elected officials to step in and save the privately-owned recreation center because they say it’s 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. In the fourth and final story in the series, writer Melissa Davis Oyler recalls growing up as a member of The Complex.
I've spent part of the spring and summer writing about moments and memories the community has made over 40 years at Anne Springs Close Complex on the Greenway. When I was younger, it was called the Leroy Springs Complex then later, Leroy Springs Recreation Complex.
There was no Greenway, not yet.
Every morning during sticky South Carolina summers in the 1980s, my siblings and I would pile into my mom’s Oldsmobile and head to the pool. I spent much of my childhood diving off of the high dive (OK, medium dive), doing cannonballs from the lifeguard stand and participating in hold-your-breath contests while sitting at the bottom of the deep end — ears popping and all.
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My sister, brother and I would work up appetites like only swimming can, then we would shower off the chlorine and head back to the car. By then, it would be too hot to rest bare legs on vinyl seats, so my mother would spread out the extra towels she always brought just for this. We’d turn left out of the parking lot to head home for peanut butter and jelly — or on lucky days, we’d turn right — to Hardee’s (the only fast food place in town) for a hamburger, fries and chocolate shake.
Around the recreation center, my sister, Jenny Davis Harrington, quickly made a name for herself as the first girl to make The Complex’s Little League All-Star Team.
“I didn’t get made fun of until they put me in as a relief pitcher,” she said. “Then the boys from the other team would be like ‘a girl?!’ and they would yell at me while I was warming up. If I struck a player out then I would feel super good. The guys on my team would be like “‘Yeah, it’s a girl!’”
Even before she played baseball, Jenny was on the T-ball field, and she recalled the coaches looking out for her.
“They provided the sweet atmosphere of fun learning that came with sports,” she said.
“The coaches were dads of kids my age. It was competitive when it needed to be competitive, but at the T-ball level it was just fun. I mean, I was competitive,” she said. “Every time we lost a T-ball game I would cry.”
Jenny would later go on to play middle and high school sports. She then went to college on a softball scholarship. After college, she became a coach herself at Fort Mill High School.
The ball fields may have been a crowd favorite around my house, but I found myself enjoying other activities — namely piano lessons, ballet, gymnastics and even sewing. Who could forget the climb up that famous spiral staircase to the dance studio at the Complex? Or the way one’s voice would echo through the gym during gymnastics practice?
In fact, one of the first times I was ever featured in The Fort Mill Times, it was not as a writer but as a gymnast, age 6, concentrating hard not to fall off of the kids' balance beam a few inches off the ground.
I recall my coach, Lydia, guiding us gently through exercises and encouraging us all to try new things. The uneven bars were my favorite — it was so fun to flip around weightlessly. The balance beams, however, brought the most uncertainty: “You want me to do a cartwheel on what?”
Between daily handstands, splits and floor stretches, I think this is why I am so drawn to yoga as an adult.
Thanks to my mom’s impeccable record-keeping, I recently found some gymnastics certificates in my baby book which had Lydia’s signature (and therefore her last name), so I was able to track her down on Facebook. Of course, Lydia Sorrow is still teaching gymnastics at Champion Gymnastics in Rock Hill.
She told me she was “thrilled” I reached out and "that my love and enthusiasm were positive memories for you.”
Lydia actually met her husband there: Richard Sorrow helped to build The Complex.
“In telling him about your article,” Lydia said, “he mentioned that The Complex was so very special because of the love of all the staff. The front desk and back desk staff were amazing. Their love and pride for The Complex and the people of the community was obvious to anyone who knew them.”
Life without The Complex
It’s been many years since I’ve spent time running around that place in a leotard, but memories and life lessons remain for all of us.
“Just playing organized sports teaches kids a lot. It taught me how to be a good sport,” Jenny said. “It taught me that I didn’t have to cry every time we lost, that losing is OK; taught us to work together.”
“Of course,” she continued, “I’ll always root for The Complex because that’s where we grew up.”
Personally, I learned community is family, and that with encouragement, I could try anything.
I learned swimming to the bottom of the deep end is rewarding, and that even I — the most uncoordinated person I know — could once do a cartwheel on a balance beam.
My own memories from my time at The Complex are from the 1980s and 90s, but over the past few weeks, the community invited me back to tell their stories from today. The sense of family is very alive and well within those four walls — The Complex has all the heart it ever did.
Melissa Oyler: @melissaoyler