A local recreation center for 50 years offers several activities for people of all ages to enjoy at no cost
The JI Stipe Center was first built in the 1970s as a multi-purpose center in McAlester before being named after Jacob Irvin Stipe, the father of the late former Oklahoma State Senator, Gene Stipe.
The center offers a gymnasium used for basketball, volleyball and a sport that is rapidly gaining national popularity – pickleball.
“We do this six times a week at different times,” McAlester community services manager Doug Basinger said of pickleball.
The gym is also open for “whatever you want to do” at different times of the week.
“You can play basketball, walk around the gym, you can even sit down and play on your phone if you want too,” Basinger said.
For those who want a more structured activity, the center also offers two activities led by a local instructor.
In an upstairs room that overlooks the gym are equipment such as medicine balls, dumbbells, and punch bags.
The equipment is part of a training circuit led by local fitness instructor Zella Kincaid.
Kincaid posts videos throughout the week on how to properly complete each workout station, which are then shared on McAlester Parks and Recreation for users to view.
“You can also make them at home, if you don’t want to come here,” Basinger said.
Kincaid is also a master taekwondo instructor and offers free classes for adults 18 and older at the center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 p.m. in hopes of offering a children’s class in the future.
Basinger said those wishing to participate in taekwondo classes will need to purchase a Dobok, the uniform worn by Korean martial artists.
“It’s a structured program,” Basinger said. “It’s not just that you come and learn taekwondo, it’s serious. You have to do everything you normally do in a serious taekwondo class, and part of that is wearing a uniform.
Class participants can test belts for the cost of the new belt and any materials used during the test.
“But other than that, the course is free,” Basinger said.
The Stipe Center reopened its senior center for in-person activities in May, which offers a free hot lunch for seniors 60 and older and a meeting place for seniors.
“We’ve been delivering meals for two years because of COVID and everything,” Basinger said.
The center opens at 8 a.m. for seniors Monday through Friday, except holidays.
“They can come here and they can drink their coffee or their tea. They can talk to their friends. They can play billiards. They can do quilting. Play cards. Any activity they want to do,” Basinger said.
The center also hosts a popular activity among visitors to the center.
“We have bingo,” Basinger said. “They really like bingo because we give away prizes.”
Lunch is served to seniors at 11:30 a.m. each day, the center is open and serves approximately 4,000 seniors each month.
The center also offers a free exercise program for seniors on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“He’s guided,” Basinger said. “We have an instructor who has been teaching it for years.”
Basinger said some seniors arrive early to take a few extra steps on the 1.25-mile walking path in adjacent Rotary Park.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, seniors can swim at the Jeff Lee Pool from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. during the summer months.
“They do water aerobics and it’s taught by the same instructor,” Basinger said.
There is no charge for seniors to participate in day-to-day center activities or workouts.
“Everything we do here is free,” Basinger said. “We don’t charge anything.”
The center can also be hired for events such as birthday parties and family reunions.
“Now if anybody wants to do something here for free, that’s fine,” Basinger said. “If they want to do something and make people pay, they will have to pay for the rental of the facility because they cannot use a municipal facility for personal use. But if it’s something free for the community, we won’t charge for it.
To rent the conference room inside the center, it costs $50 for three hours, $65 for four hours, and an additional $10 for an hour after that.
The gym is $50 an hour and $300 for the whole day.
Basinger said fares must be paid in advance.
For people who have exercise equipment they no longer use, Basinger said the center will accept donations of new or lightly used and functional exercise equipment.
“They have a treadmill that they bought because they thought they were going to use it and it’s become a clothes rack, kind of like mine, and they don’t want it to get in the way anymore, yeah, let’s take it,” Basinger said.
Anyone who donates an item to the center will receive a receipt certifying that it is a donation.
“We’ll always take free stuff,” Basinger said with a chuckle. “As long as it works.”
For more information on activities at the JI Stipe Center can be obtained by contacting the office at 918-421-4922.
A calendar of events is also posted on social media on the McAlester Parks and Recreation Facebook page.