FORT LAUDERDALE — South Florida is not hosting this year’s Super Bowl on Sunday night. It will be played, rather, at the Met Life Stadium in New Jersey between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.
But a youth center in the Scott-Carver community in Miami-Dade County and another in Fort Lauderdale in Broward County are enduring symbols of some Super Bowls played in the area.
The 18-year-old National Football League Youth Education Center, located at the sprawling Gwen Cherry Park, 7090 NW 22nd Ave., is a result of Super Bowl XXIX being played at the much-renamed Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens on Jan. 29, 1995.
Its 14-year-old counterpart in Broward, the Lester H. White Boys & Girls Club National Football League Youth Education Center at 2621 SW 15th St., Fort Lauderdale, came about after Super Bowl XX111 on Jan. 31, 1999.
The NFL started donating money to open these centers after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Faced with the criticism that the game did nothing to enhance the local community and merely took money away, the League donated $1 million to help build a new after-school center in Compton, Calif., as a legacy of Super Bowl XXVII which was played at the Rose Bowl Stadium on Jan. 31, 1993.
The NFL was so pleased with the success of the Compton center that it decided to help fund similar facilities wherever the Super Bowl is played. By January 1998, 10 centers were established, with two each in San Diego, Calif., and Tampa, cities that hosted two of the games.
Miami and Fort Lauderdale were tapped for separate centers because it took a regional effort to bring the game to Miami Gardens, said attorney H.T. Smith, a leader of the 1999 South Florida Super Bowl Host Committee, along with attorneys Dean Colson and Hank Adorno.
Smith said the League agreed to provide $1 million each to build centers in the two counties. Miami got its $1 million in 1995. Local leaders took on the responsibility to raise additional funds.
Smith and his colleagues raised some $3 million to build the center at Gwen Cherry Park which was dedicated on Dec. 16, 1996. The facility was handed over to Miami-Dade County, which, along with Communities in Schools and the Boys & Girls Club, provides the programming. The Gwen Cherry Park Foundation, which Smith heads, raises funds to help meet any shortfalls in the programming budget, garnering about $40,000 a year from organizations and individuals, Smith said.
A second donation of $500,000 from the NFL allowed for expansion of the center. A new 5,000-square-foot wing was finished in 2012, bringing the total size to 27,000 square feet.
The center houses two computer rooms with 25 terminals, a large meeting room, a library, a game room, a gymnasium, a multi-purpose room and several offices and storage rooms.
Participants receive homework tutoring, training in arts and craft work, sports and physical fitness training.
Broward County got its $1 million in 1999, followed later by $500,000. Its Lester H. White center opened in September 2000 as a unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County which provides programming in, areas such as character, leadership, education and career development.
Rich Ouellette, who heads the unit, said it was built on the site of the 6,000-square-foot Lester H. White Boys Club which dated back to 1965.
Broward leaders raised $3.5 million for the center from one fundraiser, a live and silent auction involving several yachts held at Fisher Island, according to the Sun Sentinel.
The 17,000-square-foot Broward YET center opened on Oct. 28, 2000. Unlike the Miami center, this one is an integral part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, which operates it as on its network of 11 units, funding its operations from its own budget. It is run by an advisory council under the general direction of the corporate board of the Boys & Girls Club. Those taking part in its programs are about 88 percent black. The Miami center’s participants are almost all African American. Rosenthal Curtis, 28, a youth volunteer who teaches fitness classes in the gymnasium of the Miami center, said the NFL sponsorship is a good way to introduce kids to professional football.
“This is a sports center that’s really big on sports,” Curtis said. “Kids are more focused on the traditional sports like football and basketball.” Smith takes a wider view of the purpose of the center.
“Adults in the black community have a responsibility to do more than to tell children to say no to drugs; say no to gangs; and say not guns,” Smith said. “We have a responsibility to give our children positive programs to say yes to athletics, academics, health and culture. It is in that spirit that we built and continue to support the NFL YET Center at Gwen Cherry Park.”