June 15, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Before Ken Byers and others threw a little dirt around Friday afternoon at Georgia Tech, it was difficult to stand near the southwest corner of 10th and Fowler streets and grasp what has happened, is happening and will happen.
During ground-breaking ceremonies for the Ken Byers Tennis Complex, which is scheduled to open in January, cranes were idle yet signs of progress there are impossible to miss. It was, as men’s tennis coach Kenny Thorne would say, “incredible; hard to wrap my brain around.”
Yes, it would take a lot of wrapping.
Across Fowler, McCamish Pavilion has taken enough of what will be its final form that it no longer looks more like Alexander Memorial Coliseum than then new basketball facility that will open in November. Immediately to the south, the John and Mary Brock Indoor Practice Facility – not quite one year old – towered on the football practice field.
Diagonally from the spot where dozens of Tech officials, donors and VIPs awaited the ceremony, you could sneak a peak through trees of Mewborn Field, the still-young softball facility that ranks on par with the nation’s finest. And although it was out of site on the backside of McCamish, the state-of-the-are Zelnak practice facility looms.
Byers, who earned a BEE degree from Tech under the co-op program with Southern Bell, an MSEE from Tech and an MBA from Georgia State before founding Byers Engineering in 1971, was beaming like a proud father. The primary donor to the Yellow Jackets’ newest facility said to all, “I can’t wipe the smile off my face.”
He and his wife have been parents of a sort to the Tech men’s and women’s tennis programs for many years in ways known chiefly to coaches and administrators. Their dotage is about to become more apparent to outsiders in three-dimensional form.
It has taken a lot of pushing, some pulling, budget revisions and the input and hard work of dozens of people to get here.
“When I came 14 years ago, I thought it would be a little bit easier to get a new facility,” Thorne said. “Fourteen years later I almost feel like it was the perfect storm to make it happen. We’ve had . . . just an incredible amount of people who have had to get on board.
“You can just pick them out of the crowd and go, ‘Wow! That was such an instrumental group over there.’ This is the first time they’ve all been in one place at the same time.”
With heavy machinery at rest, dirt everywhere and a construction office trailer on the western edge of the site just steps away from the home of Tech president Bud Peterson, it would take a great visionary to be able to imagine what’s coming.
All that’s left of the previous Bill Moore Tennis Center, which opened in 1985, is two vertical girders to which the previous scoreboard was anchored.
By the spring season, the Jackets will have a new six-court indoor facility aside 10th. Previously, there were three indoor courts.
“[Moore] passed away, but his family stepped up and made an additional donation and the indoor courts are going to be named for him and his family,” Byers said. “That’s great.”
There will also be six new outdoor competition courts and four outdoor practice courts located between the indoor facility and the track. A big, big upgrade is on the way.
“I want to think Ken and Trish and the Byers family for allowing us to come together here today to enjoy this great celebration. This is another magnificent addition to our dramatic transformation of the 10th Street-Fowler corridor area,” said athletic director Dan Radakovich.
“This will also stand as a tribute to the coaches, alumni and great student-athletes who’ve volleyed on these grounds.”
Peterson made this observation:
“I often say that athletics is the lens through which many of our students, former students and alumni and people outside of Georgia Tech view us. If that’s the case, then this will polish that lens in a way that all the facilities do in a way to make all of the students proud.”
Even on his final day as a Georgia Tech employee, on an afternoon which he agreed was bittersweet and even awkward at times Shelton said privately, on his way out and to become the Florida men’s coach, “What a great day.
“This is a great day for an alumnus, a great day for the student-athletes, a great day for the coaching staffs, and a great day for all of you have been supportive.”
Friday was a little more emotional than I had predicted both because I have an inkling of how much work has gone on behind the scenes to make the new tennis complex happen, and because I’ll miss – and so will many others – Bryan Shelton.
We’ll touch on his departure in more detail in a couple days, but the overwhelming sentiment Friday was joy. Pure joy. Thorne couldn’t stop grinning. Neither could Ken and Trish Byers. There was a tremendous sense of pride all around.
Many things make Tech special, and its benefactors are at the top of every list. Byers has over the years endowed scholarships, department chairs, professorships and more. Tech is in his debt. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.