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Gift from Elon alumnus supports town park upgrades

University of Missouri men’s basketball head coach Frank Haith ‘88 has joined with the Town of Elon and several private donors, including Elon University, to renovate and expand a community park that holds a special place in his heart.

Frank Haith '88, head coach of the men's basketball program at the University of Missouri, presents a check to Town of Elon Mayor Jerry Tolley in September at a groundbreaking ceremony for renovations to Lawrence Slade Park.

Before taking the helm of the University of Missouri’s men’s basketball team, before serving the University of Miami in the same role, and before his contributions to several other top college basketball programs as an assistant coach, Frank Haith ‘88 lived with his siblings and grandmother in the neighborhood behind the Station at Mill Point on South Williamson Avenue.

A young Haith spent countless hours on the asphalt of a basketball court in what is today Lawrence Slade Park, going head-to-head against older boys in the close-knit community.

Thirty years later, Haith and his wife, Pam, have remained close to his Alamance County roots, and the couple now serve as the driving force behind town efforts to renovate and expand the very same park that inspired a distinguished collegiate coaching career.

Plans call for a refurbished and expanded basketball court, an amphitheater for community concerts, and corn hole and bocce courts. Named in honor of former town alderman Lawrence Slade, the park will play host to basketball camps, provide a site for groups such as Special Olympics and Senior Games, and bring additional cultural programs to the community.

Town officials said during a groundbreaking celebration at the park earlier this fall that they hope  renovations will be complete by the spring of 2015. The Haiths made a lead gift in a public-private endeavor that includes grants from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the Town of Elon, Elon University, Twin Lakes Retirement Community/Lutheran Retirement Ministries of Alamance County, and the Hayden Harmon Foundation.

Getting children active was a primary motivation for Haith. A renovated Lawrence Slade Park on Ballpark Avenue will be a complement to Beth Schmidt Park on Cook Road on the western side of the town, he said.

“In the 21st century, kids are into PlayStation and Xbox, but having something planned and in place for young people will be special,” Haith said. “I’m very involved with the Boys and Girls Club here in Columbia, and my whole thing is giving our youth a safe place to play and grow. Hopefully the park will be something where youth will look at it and choose to stay involved in athletics and other positive things.”

Haith's gift to the town will allow park officials to renovate and refurbish the basketball court on which he played growing up in the community.

Plans for a refurbished park date back many years. The town hosted forums in 2008 after acquiring the park from Alamance County to gauge community interest in new features, but with a price tag of $325,000, any work would have been stretched over a few years had the project relied solely on tax dollars.

Donations from the Haiths and other private organizations allow for completion in just over a year. “It’s going to be really nice for the community, which was really important to me,” Haith said. “It’s where I grew up. Getting the courts the way I want them is a neat thing.”

Following his Elon graduation, Haith served as a student coach and a part-time assistant coach of men's basketball at Elon. He later worked as an assistant for Wake Forest University, UNC Wilmington, Texas A&M, Penn State and the University of South Carolina before the University of Miami hired him for its top position in 2004.

In 2011, Haith made the move to the University of Missouri, and his program’s subsequent successes led to coach-of-the-year awards from the United States Basketball Writers Association and the Associated Press. The Elon Black Alumni Network honored Haith in 2012 with the Eugene Perry Distinguished Alumnus Award, named for the first African-American student to graduate from the university.

Phyllis Creech, the director of recreation and parks for the town, praised the Haiths’ generosity and their commitment to the region.

“He and Pam are the most community-minded people,” Creech said. “They love Elon. They love this community and they have a passion for the kids, their development and activity, and for holding sports camps here. Their participation has been a springboard to really get other contributors to fund this all at one time.”

Eric Townsend,
10/2/2013 12:00 PM