When Darrell Griffith was just another West End kid growing up on Hale Street in the 1970s, the gym he played in at Carter Elementary School was nothing like the Athletic Center that bears his name today.
That was before he became the most sought-after high school player in the country, before he became “Dr. Dunkenstein” and led the University of Louisville to the 1980 NCAA championship – cementing his status as a local hero – and before his 11-year career in the NBA for the Utah Jazz.
Today, the gym at the Darrell Griffith Athletic Center, a part of the West End School, has a regulation-sized basketball court, a volleyball court, bleachers, a concessions area, and weight, exercise, and locker rooms. And just inside the front door, there’s a gallery filled with memorabilia from Griffith’s life, most of it donated by his father, Monroe.
Griffith is a volunteer and founding board member of the all-boys’ school, which serves children in prekindergarten through eighth grade.
“We needed a gym for the kids. They had played 38 away basketball games, never had a home game. We felt to complete the campus, and have a true educational system, athletics is was very important. The gym I grew up in, the ceiling was about this high,” Griffith says, pointing to the low ceiling in the gallery.
Griffith, a successful businessman, speaks about the West End with optimism and hope.
“The West End is a part of Louisville that always gets portrayed in a negative light because of all the things you see in the media,” he says. “But I’m proud of the West End.”
He mentions successful people who grew up in the West End, including fellow basketball stars Derek Anderson and Allan Houston, TV anchor Dawne Gee, and of course, The Greatest, Muhammad Ali.
“There are great people in this community and I’m proud to be from here,” he says.
And there’s good reason to believe an economic renaissance is possible in the near future, he says. While many were upset when Walmart decided not to build a new store at 18th and Broadway, Griffith believes it may be a blessing.
“I think God always has a plan, and when Walmart pulled out, He wasn’t gonna let the devil win, so Passport came in and utilized the opportunity to use that space. It’s perfect for the West End,” he says.
“Once you get people like Passport coming in, seeing the people in the community, more companies will come in and see how vibrant this neighborhood is and can be,” he adds. “I think you’ll see growth in the community. The revitalization of the West End is a solid plan for the city. There’s a lot of hope.”