A festive atmosphere pervaded McAlester's Chadick Park on Wednesday, as fans, families, officials and community members converged at the site for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the city's new Thunder Cares basketball court.
With the smell of grilling hamburgers wafting through the grounds, OKC Thunder mascot, Rumble the Bison; the Thunder Girls, the Storm Chasers and the Thunder Drummers worked the crowd, building up the level of excitement.
That led to Mayor John Browne joining Oklahoma City Thunder representatives along with executives from Enable Midstream Partners and others for the ceremony to dedicate the city's newest basketball court.
City of McAlester Community Services Director Mel Priddy expressed the exuberance he felt at the city receiving the Thunder Court through the Thunder Cares organization — all at no charge to the city.
"This Thunder Court is without question one the greatest things that's ever happened to our parks system," Priddy said. He noted the contributions of the OKC Thunder Cares organization and Midstream Energy Partners in the donation of the newly-constructed basketball court to the city of McAlester.
"They were great to work with," Priddy said.
Prior to the ribbon-cutting, Browne and several others addressed the assembled throng.
"Thank you to the Thunder Cares Foundation, for teaming with the city and Enable MidStream to build this wonderful addition to Chadick Park," said Browne, who also gave a nod to the Thunder Girls, the Thunder Drummers and Rumble the Bison for adding to the festivities.
"Thunder Cares' work to provide a positive impact on the lives of our youth exemplifies the spirit of teamwork," Browne said.
"Sports brings communities together," Browne continued. "Being on a team teaches us how to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It teaches us how to win and lose. It teaches us humility and it teaches us that we can't do things alone. Being part of a team teaches us how to be better."
The Thunder Court will bring together kids of different backgrounds, the mayor said. It will host pick-up games and tournaments and will add to the quality of life, he added.
"This court may someday have been the beginnings of a kid's professional career," Browne continued. "Every player in the NBA began by playing in youth leagues or pickup games on courts like this. The next Russell Westbrook could get his start playing right here."
"As McAlester celebrates our 150th year and as we strive to make our home a healthier, more vibrant city, we welcome this gift from our great community partners," said Browne. "We are very proud to become part of the Thunder Cares team. Thank you for choosing McAlester to become part of your positive impact throughout Oklahoma."
Spreading a love of basketball in communities across the state is a big part of the Thunder Cares Foundation's mission, Browne said, as he introduced the Thunder's vice president of Community Relations Christine Berney.
Berney spoke about her earlier trips to McAlester to help select the spot for the new Thunder Cares basketball court, before settling on Chadick Park.
She also credited two McAlester residents, banker Mike McGowan, and Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice (Ret.) Steven Taylor with having the original inspiration for the project.
"I just want to say a huge 'thank you' to all of the Thunder fans in McAlester, with a special shout-out to the Mike McGowan family and Justice Steven Taylor," Berney said.
She also thanked local residents and city of McAlester personnel who helped show the Thunder representatives around the city while they were searching for the best site to place the new Thunder Court.
Berney also later spoke with the News-Capital.
Does it ever get tiresome, traveling to different communities around the state to dedicate the Thunder Care as basketball courts?
"Every single one we do is special," Berney said. "It's so great to see this community come out and celebrate. It's so nice to see the court will be well-used. To do it with our partners like Enable makes it more special."
She also liked the choice of Chadick Park as the site for the court.
"The community has really embraced the park and built it up," Berney said. "To be a part of that is really great."
The Thunder group drove to McAlester early Wednesday for the event.
"It was a fun bus ride," Berney said.
Nancy McGowan, who is married to Mike McGowan, attended the event with her daughter, Michelle McGowan Tompkins.
"I hope we see young people here in the evenings, playing ball," Nancy McGowan said.
"Dad had a good idea," said Michelle Tompkins, referring to her father, Mike McGowan. "It took all of us — the city, Enable and especially the Thunder, to make it a reality," Tompkins said.
City Manager Pete Stasiak took it all in as he watched the enthusiasm of those attending the event. He noted the turnout from the community and the partnerships involved in the project.
"I'm kind of speechless," he said.
Coluah Watts Stanfield joined other community members of the community in attending the ceremony.
"I'm on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club," she said. "I think this is awesome. This is a morale-booster."
Assistant City Manager Toni Ervin felt impressed by the size of the crowd.
"This is a great turnout, don't you think?" said Ervin. "It's really great for our community."
Former Krebs Public Schools Superintendent Danny Jabara and his wife, Violet Jabara, turned out for the event.
"It's a great thing they did for McAlester," Violet Jabara said, with Danny adding they were very excited about the community getting a new Thunder Court.
Enable Midstream Partners CEO Rod Sailor spoke to those assembled for the ribbon-cutting and later spoke to the News-Capital.
"We're very much into giving back to the community," Sailor said. He noted that Enable has an office in McAlester, with approximately 30 employees. He said the new court will be beneficial not only to McAlester, but the company's local employees, who can stop by and shoot some hoops like everyone else.
He said Enable has worked with several local organizations, including the Youth Emergency Shelter and Hope House as well as the equestrian therapy program and and a local soup kitchen.Enable Midstream Director of Corporate Communications and Community Relations David Klassen said "It's a great thing they did for McAlester. We're very excited."
City of McAlester Economic Development Director Kirk Ridenour joined other city personnel at the event.
"I think it's fantastic," Ridenour said. "It's these types of amenities that impact the quality of life of the community."
Following the ceremony, Browne stuck around for awhile to enjoy the atmosphere.
"It's a great day for McAlester," Browne said. "It's wonderful to be able to partner with Thunder Cares and Enable Midstream. We're going to work to keep the relationship going."
As the program wound down, emcee Malcolm Tubbs of the Thunder organization gave one last announcement.
"The court is now open to the public," he said. "Anybody who wants to play, can play!"
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org