An old basketball gym brings a community together. A county government decision threatens to tear it apart.
"What was your fear?" FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis asked beloved basketball coach Carlos Adams.
"Losing it and not really having a place to go. Giving it back up to somebody or some people that didn't want to have anything to do with it."
Adams manages the old Buffington Elementary gymnasium in Cherokee County. First graders on up get first-hand coaching from a former pro who played overseas. A man they like to call the gentle giant.
"He's a pillar to this community," said parent and former Buffington student Jason McKinney. "And I couldn't say nothing but good things about him."
In 2010, the community rallied around Adams and this old gym. It was falling apart, Cherokee County leaders deciding to close it down rather than spend more than $200,000 in repairs.
Dylan Bergman was one of Adams players. He had an idea.
"Did you ever ask them for any tax money?" Randy said to Dylan.
"No. All our own money."
"And your own sweat," Randy pointed out.
For his senior high school project, Dylan convinced Cherokee County to let the community fix up the Buffington gym.
It took six months of often nasty work, with rats and spiders hiding in dark and scary places. Coach Adams was there every step of the way.
"One time it was scary underneath the gym cause we didn't know what was under there," remembered Adams.
"You scared? A big guy like you?"
"Oh yes. Yes. Yes."
Scared or not... they did it. And the gym reopened to a proud community.
Cherokee County agreed to let Adams lease the refurbished gym for one dollar a year as long as he paid the utilities.
Four years later, the program has thrived, with 275 kids showing up now, paying mainly for basketball, drawn to the personal touch of their coach.
"The first thing he says, I love you kids. And you're my kids when you step out on this court," said McKinney, one of Adams' biggest supporters.
But last month, Adams' parents and players were the ones comforting him.
Someone else approached the county asking to operate Buffington. The contract was suddenly up for bid. And no one from Cherokee County bothered to give Adams a heads-up until it was almost too late.
"He said you're not going to believe what happened. I couldn't," remembered McKinney. "It really caught me off... we weren't expecting nothing like that."
"I instill in them don't quit. Don't give up," Adams said. "And I found myself in that same situation. Should I give up and walk away from it? No."
It all just seemed so... curious. So FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis emailed Cherokee County manager Jerry Cooper to ask why. The very next day Carlos got a call from the county.
His bid, the one he nearly didn't have a chance to submit, had won after all. The Cherokee County commission will vote on the new deal next month.
The FOX 5 I-Team was there when Adams delivered the good news to his players.
"Let's say now that I can breathe a sigh of relief and you all can too as well, because it looks like we're going to be staying here for a while."
Applause echoed through the rafters of an old... but not forgotten... community gym.
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