Some of the greatest names in Pittsburgh basketball history began their careers in some capacity at the Ammon Recreation Center on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District, and yesterday many of them gathered for two reasons -- to be honored as "Ammon legends" as well as to celebrate the reopening of the historic building.
The building, which had been run by the city of Pittsburgh until 2004, had been kept open by a cooperative effort of a number of groups and spearheaded by Macedonia Baptist Church until last year when a lack of funds forced it to close its doors.
But thanks in large part to the efforts of Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation Director Duane Ashley and Councilwoman Tonya Payne and with the blessing of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, $200,000 in funding was secured within the budget to remodel the building and open it once again.
With the construction last year of the adjacent Josh Gibson Field, which was built with $100,000 in city money and $300,000 from the Pirates, along with the refurbishing of the Ammon outdoor pool, the remodeling of the Ammon building means that the center will remain a central place for recreation in the Hill District.
"This center has been a part of this community since 1940 and it has been through some great times but also some very trying times," said Ravenstahl, who was one of several speakers to address a large crowd inside the gymnasium.
"The project, between the field and the pool and the facility, cost about $600,000, and some people might ask me why we'd spend that much money on recreation facilities, but I believe that is money that we're investing in young people's lives.
"I grew up in the city, I benefited greatly from recreation programs and I was always involved in sports, and the things you learn from them can be life lessons. And I know that I would not be where I am today had it not been for my involvement with recreation programs growing up here in the city."
While part of the ceremony was dedicated to the reopening of the center, a major reason for the gathered crowd was the "celebration of legends" ceremony, which included the unveiling of a banner commemorating each honored individual's high school jersey.
Among the many "legends" honored were former Pitt stars Darrelle Porter, Sam Clancy and DeJuan Blair as well as all-time Pittsburgh greats such as the late Robert "Jeep" Kelley, Petey Gibson, Major Harris, Warner Macklin, Karen Hall, Maurice Lucas and Darrick Suber.
In all, 18 people were honored and will have their banners hanging in the newly remodeled gym forever.
"I'm only 19. I don't think I am old enough to be a legend," joked Blair, who was one of three of the honorees who spoke to the crowd.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, who was the guest speaker, said it was an honor to be a part of the program, especially since he has heard so much about the history of Pittsburgh basketball and all of the legends, and that this gave him a chance to meet some of them.
"I had met some of these guys before," Dixon said. "I always get frustrated when I hear stories about what it used to be around here in terms of basketball because, as the Pitt coach, I wish it still was. But I think down the road here it can be a great place for basketball once again, and DeJuan is a guy who could very well be looked at down the road as the one who got it back started again.
"I had no idea all of these guys were going to be here. This was just something special. And like I said, I'm just humbled that they'd ask me to be a part of it."
Paul Zeise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .