The Marion County Tribune

Follow Us On:

Marion County gym dedication to honor Belk family

Posted on Thursday, March 28, 2024 at 2:13 pm

Shane Shoemaker – Writer

Tony Belk and his father, Anthony Belk Sr., recognized a pressing need in Marion Co. High School athletics and decided to take action by making a donation to the school’s athletic program. The starting point was the high school gymnasium, and now the Belk family will always be recognized for their contributions.

On Dec. 12, during the break between the Warriors girls’ and boys’ basketball games against Grundy Co., Belk and his father were honored by athletic director and head football coach Tim Starkey on behalf of the high school at midcourt in a ceremony officially naming the gymnasium the Belk Memorial Gym in honor of the entire Belk family. This marked the first time, dating back to the building’s creation in 1979, that it had ever been named or commemorated after anyone.

The Belk family, which includes Tony (Class of 1989) and currently has a family member, senior cheerleader Lydia Balboa, enrolled at the high school, has lived in the Jasper area since the early 1800s. Tony’s grandparents attended the former Pryor Institute, the school preceding Marion Co. High School, which was located in the current Jasper Middle School.

“Our family has always been here. We all love athletics,” Belk said. “It goes back to my grandparents and just honoring them. They were very proud of the school they went to, the Pryor Institute, that became Marion Co. High School. It’s something really, really neat to have that name on there. When I see it, I don’t necessarily think of my dad; I think of my grandmother and my grandfather. It’s a super, super neat thing.

“We were going to make a donation to the athletic program anyway, and this was a way that Coach Starkey and principal [Larry] Ziegler thought that they could really honor our family for that donation.”

Thanks to what Belk called a “sizable donation,” the Warriors and Lady Warriors basketball teams were able to play on a brand-new court against the Yellow Jackets that night, featuring new goals and other upgrades courtesy of the family’s logistics company, Belk Express.

“We’ve been able to redo everything in our gym, from the walls to the floor, all four goals on each end, score tables, chairs – you name it – from top to bottom we’ve been able to redo our gym,” Starkey said. “And also other athletics are going to be able to benefit from their blessing. So, it’s been a good deal.”

While the basketball court began substantial upgrades over the summer, more improvements are expected. As Starkey stated, “It’s been a blessing to our school because we use this gym as a classroom as well. It’s not just benefiting our basketball teams, but you still got volleyball that plays in here also. But the students in the building get the benefits of the upgrade as well.”

Most schools, like Marion Co., are individually self-supported by each athletic program, whether it be football, basketball, baseball, etc. With the Belk’s donation, the school now has a set of supplemental funding to address the needs of each program.

“We made sure we had our coaches put in wish lists, and we kind of prioritized things, and everything in the athletic program has benefited from the donation,” Ziegler said. “It’s something that will hopefully stretch over a couple of years.

“It’s a big deal because sports are self-supported. So any money that goes to our athletics is raised by that program. So it just allowed our athletic programs to fill in some gaps where there were needs and a lack of funds. Most importantly, it got some items and equipment and some upgrades for our kids that they deserve. And then, on the flip side, since a lot of the work was done in the gymnasium, not only does it support our athletics but all of our kids use the gym one way or another, so it stretched across the whole student body.”

Belk hopes and believes this donation will be one that continues to provide for his and his family’s alma mater for years to come by not only strengthening the athletic program but keeping students involved and a part of the school.

“Athletics are so important to kids and keep them occupied and keep them out of trouble; it gives them goals and teaches them lessons and how to be coachable and how to work together as a team to achieve a goal,” Belk said. “It’s invaluable that those kids learn at 14, 15, 16 years old. That’s why we always try to support athletics. Obviously, academics would be the most important thing, but athletics sometimes keeps them there so they can get the academics.”

Belk also believes that he and his family have put the money in the best possible hands going forward.

“I 100% trust Tim [Starkey] and Larry [Ziegler] on that and that they have the greatest of intentions,” Belk said. “I trust that whatever they do is going to be the right thing. It truly is.”

The Marion Tribune – December 28, 2023