A local leisure center has been offering various activities for people of all ages free of charge for 50 years
The JI Stipe Center was first built as a McAlester multipurpose center in the 1970s before being named for Jacob Irvin Stipe, father of the late former Oklahoma State Senator Gene Stipe.
A gymnasium is offered at the center, which is used for basketball, volleyball and a sport that is growing in popularity nationwide – pickleball.
“We do this six times a week at different times,” McAlester Community Services director Doug Basinger said of Pickleball.
The gym is also open for “whatever you want” at various times throughout the week.
“You can play basketball, walk around the gym, you can even sit back there 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 teacher.
Equipment like medicine balls, free weights, and punching bags lie in an upstairs room overlooking the gym.
The equipment is part of the circuit training led by local fitness instructor Zella Kincaid.
Kincaid will be posting videos throughout the week on how to correctly complete each workout station, which will then be shared on McAlester Parks and Recreation for users to see.
“You can also do this 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+ on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm, with the hope of offering a children’s class in the future.
Basinger said those wishing to take the taekwondo classes must purchase a dobok, the uniform worn by practitioners of Korean martial arts.
“This is a structured program,” Basinger said. “You don’t just come around and fool around and learn taekwondo, it’s serious. You have to do all the things you would normally do in a serious taekwondo class, and part of that is wearing a uniform.”
Participants in the course can test belts for the cost of the new belt and the material used during the test.
“But otherwise the classes are free,” Basinger said.
The Stipe Center reopened its senior center for personal activities in May, which offers seniors 60 and older a free hot lunch and a senior meeting place.
“We’ve been delivering meals for the last few years because of COVID and everything else,” Basinger said.
The center opens to seniors at 8am Monday through Friday, excluding city holidays.
“You can come here and have your coffee or tea. You can talk to your friends. You can play billiards. They can quilt. Playing cards. Just any activity that 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 love bingo because we give away donated prizes.”
Lunch is served for the seniors at 11:30 am each day the center is open and serves approximately 4,000 seniors each month.
The center also offers a free senior citizen exercise program on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m
“It’s guided,” Basinger said. “We have an instructor who’s been teaching it for years.”
Basinger said some seniors are arriving early to take some extra steps on the 1.25-mile trail in the adjacent Rotary Park.
Seniors can swim in the Jeff Lee Pool on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer months from 9:30am to 10:30am.
“They do aqua aerobics and it’s taught by the same teacher,” Basinger said.
There is no charge for seniors to participate in the daily center activities or workouts.
“Everything we do here is free,” Basinger said. “We don’t charge anything.”
The center can also be rented for events such as birthday parties and family reunions.
“Now if someone wants to do something for free here, that’s fine,” Basinger said. “If they want to do something and charge people, they have to pay for the facility’s rent because they can’t use a city facility for personal gain. But if it’s free for the community, we won’t charge for it.”
Renting the conference room in the center is $50 for three hours, $65 for four hours, and an additional $10 for each hour thereafter.
The gym is $50 an hour and $300 for the whole day.
Basinger said the installments would have to be paid in advance.
For people who have exercise equipment that they no longer use, Basinger said the center will accept donations of new or gently used and working exercise equipment
“Me, they have a treadmill that they bought because they thought they were going to use it and it became a clothes rack, similar to mine, and they don’t want it in the way anymore, yeah we’re taking it,” he said Basinger.
Any person who donates an item to the center will receive a receipt stating that it is a donation.
“We always take free stuff,” Basinger said with a chuckle. “As long as it works.”
For more information about activities at the JI Stipe Center, please contact the office at 918-421-4922.
A calendar of events will also be posted on social media on the McAlester Parks and Recreation Facebook page.