Jewish Journal


February 10, 2000

A Sports Complex as “Civic Presence”


Even before celebrities and community leaders gathered to cut the ribbon on the Ferne Milken Youth & Sports Complex last December, Eli Sherman was out visiting San Fernando Valley malls, neighborhoods, schools and synagogues, urging all Valley residents to treat the complex as their own.

Now, it looks like the efforts of Sherman, who is the complex's athletic director, and others are paying off. Jewish and non-Jewish groups have already begun filling the $4.5 million, multi-function complex with a wide variety of events, activities and programs. "The facility is meant to be a catalyst for a whole lot of community change," said H. Jack Mayer, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance, whose offices, like the complex, are located at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in the West San Fernando Valley. The goal, said Mayer, is to bring in people of all denominations, beliefs, practices and observances, who will become, in his words, "a civic presence."

The stunning complex is uniquely suited to meet its promoters' dreams. Among its amenities:

* The 12,000 square-foot Gerry and George Gregory and Family Gymnasium includes one tournament-sized basketball court overlaying two regular size courts. Telescopic bleachers provides seating for up to 500 spectators, and electronic scoreboards keep fans up to date.

* A 3,000-sq. ft. multi-purpose fitness center for aerobics and gymnastics. Called Ritaís Room, the space can also be used for social gatherings and other events.

* The Farber Teen Center. The 2,000-sq. ft space is intended as a lounge, game room and meeting area.

* In addition to the wood-floor gym and fitness rooms, the expanded space will house a snack bar and sports shop. A new lobby rounds out the entire addition, which was designed by WLC Architects of Rancho Cucamonga.

One night each week, you can find the teens of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) hanging in the Farber Lounge. Stacey Harvey, BBYO's regional director, said the group uses the teen room to relax and chat before their weekly meetings. "[The Milken Complex] has had a positive effect on our kids," said Harvey. "It's part of what they call home." The center also recently hosted more than 200 teenagers from the United Synagogue Youth (USY), giving the center, according to Sherman, a chance to show what it offered.

Deborah Leibsohn, assistant director for Valley Beth Shalom's USY chapter, said the event, organized by her group, included aerobics and kickboxing with a private instructor, and swimming and basketball, complete with a referee. For those who were less athletically inclined, Leibsohn said the Farber Teen Center room offered ping-pong, board games and movies.

Sherman is meeting with USY to develop an ongoing sports program that would take place one night a week.

The complex is developing programs that will entice people of all ages. For children there are a number of organized classes and leagues available, including swimming, basketball, gymnastics, dance and a modified version of tennis for children ages 4 and older, according to Sherman. "I'm going to give them every opportunity to make this place a home away from home," he said.

For families whose kids are still too young to participate, the complex offers a number of programs, including a fitness program for nursery school children. A mixture of play and education is used to teach the children about their bodies and how they work.

Sherman is also working to make a presentation to West Hills Hospital about a new concept of specially designed fitness programs for seniors.

While the 12-year-old Milken campus is already well known in the west Valley for its social, educational and cultural programming, the Youth & Sports Complex to the immediate south of the existing facility jazzes up current recreational services and adds some modern new features that should prove a magnet for area youth and families.

Along with these activities, the center also sponsors special events. Not long ago, the complex hosted a week-long basketball camp for children, conducted by former members of the Harlem Globetrotters. In the future, Sherman said, he wants to hold more camps, including soccer, gymnastics and even magic.

To promote these programs, Sherman has sent information to local synagogues and schools, both religious and secular. But he and Mayer aren't only focusing on the Jewish community.

Along with posting banners in neighborhoods and malls to reach a wider audience, Sherman has also invited local businesses, such as hospitals and health centers, to use the center's facilities. He has also extended the use of the swimming pool to residents of convalescent homes.

While Sherman has been active in developing the programs, it was the community itself that made the decision to establish them.

In the beginning, Sherman met with representatives from synagogues, schools and youth groups, and together they planned the programs.

"They made recommendations," Sherman said. "We wanted them to feel a sense of ownership with the center."

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