Dr. Ronnie Mayers had a vision. He wanted to build a world-class competition swimming pool to serve the community, house classrooms for students and be home to one of the best college swim teams in America.
No, it wasn’t in Oxford or Starkville or Hattiesburg or even in Jackson.
It was in Cleveland — yes, Cleveland.
Delta State University has been home to the only collegiate swim team in Mississippi for decades and Mayers helped solidify that by spearheading an initiative to fund the construction of a new pool at DSU, which was completed in 2001.
Recently, Delta State honored Mayers by placing his name on the building.
Mayers has served as a teacher, coach, athletics director and all-around cheerleader for the university since he arrived in 1969 when a short, bald-headed, fiery track coach named O.W. Reily recruited him from Natchez.
It has been nearly 20 years since the now Mayers Aquatic Center was built. In that time, it has been a place for swim lessons, aquatic classes, local events, club, high school and college swim meets as well as high school and college championship meets.
It is everything Mayers envisioned and even more when he began planning this facility in his mind’s eye more than 30 years ago.
When he and Dr. Kent Wyatt, Leroy Morganti and Rep. Charlie Capps began pitching the idea to the state legislature for funding, they all used the “If you build it, they will come” metaphor from the movie Field of Dreams to bolster their argument. People will come, they said. People will most definitely come.
But I’m not quite sure any of them knew just how true those words would be.
In a recent study, it was found that the Mayers Aquatic Center brings more economic activity to Cleveland than any other single thing.
It’s no wonder that Cleveland is in the midst of a hotel building boom that it has sorely needed for many years.
You can thank Ronnie Mayers for that.
In his nearly 50 years in Cleveland and the Mississippi Delta, it would be hard to quantify in dollars what Mayers has meant to the area.
But it is what he has meant, as a person, that has been worth so much more to so many people. Because of Mayers, thousands of athletes and students from dozens of countries have come to Cleveland and then gone on to become valuable parts of the community in Cleveland, the Delta and all across Mississippi.
All of that being said, it’s a little more personal for me. You see, it was my dad that recruited him to Delta State oh so long ago as he ran track and coached. Ronnie coached me briefly as a youth swimmer and his wife Karen tried to teach me algebra in the ninth grade.
And now, it has come full circle.
Two of my kids learned to swim in that pool and these days they return to Cleveland on a regular basis as competitive swimmers (much better than their dad) to the best swimming facility in Mississippi. They compete for best times, championships and future opportunities that would not have meant as much had it not been for Dr. Ronnie Mayers’ vision that has meant so much to the sport, so much to the community and so much to the state of Mississippi.
Thank you, Ronnie.
» ROSS REILY is the editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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