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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014
Northwest News

New gym at Westchase Recreation Center draws a crowd


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WESTCHASE — It isn’t easy to find the Westchase Recreation Center. It’s hidden behind Westchase Elementary School at 9791 Westchase Drive, off Linebaugh Avenue. But enough people have found it that there’s a waiting list just to get into the after-school program.

With a new, state-of-the art gymnasium, the Westchase Recreation Center is home to many recreational activities that are making the waiting lists larger by the day.

Dona Smith is the director of the facility, which is part of the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, and is especially proud of the new gym, which opened during the summer. There is a full court basketball court and two half-court basketball courts. The facility has been open since 2004, but it has become popular since its opening to the point where the waiting list was put into play.

“We have built the trust of the community,” Smith said. “Now that we have our gym, we are able to add more kids. We are going slowly. We just added 20 kids and are looking to add 20 more kids. It’s been busy around here. We have kids who have waited three years to get in and now they have a chance.”

At $38 a week, the center is a bargain. Although many of the children attend Westchase Elementary, it is open to other students from other schools. Smith said it doesn’t matter where the kids go to school.

“These families are our family,” Smith said. “They are all a part of this place and it doesn’t matter where they are from.”

The center isn’t only about kids. Every Saturday there is “Daddy Ball,” when adults can play basketball at the new gym. There also is a new yoga program and more organized activities on the horizon.

“We are trying to keep everybody happy and we have so many requests for different programs, and we are trying to please everyone,” Smith said. “It is a big puzzle.”

The kids in the after-school care program seem to love the center.

“This is so much fun because they love what we are doing and are so nice,” said fifth-grader Zen Hiatt. “We have different games every day. I just love it here.”

Graham Thompson, who is in second grade, said he can’t wait to get out of school so he can walk across the parking lot to get to the center.

“The older kids get to have a lot of fun, but we also get a lot to do,” Graham said. “Every time I come over here I feel like I am at home. Everybody is so nice.”

Fifth-grader Sabrina Takagishi added that the kids at the center, since most go to Westchase Elementary, have created a family atmosphere.

“We are a family,” she said. “Coach Dona makes us feel that way. I am here until 6 (o’clock) and I don’t want to leave. It’s a special place, different than any other place. We love it here.”

For more information, call (813) 964-2948.

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