Mid-Atlantic
Myrtle Beach residents participate in a game of pick-up basketball on the basketball court at Midway Park in Myrtle Beach Sunday afternoon. Josh Bell

‘It’s legendary’: The rich history few know about Myrtle Beach’s basketball courts

An unassuming landmark sits in plain view in the City of Myrtle Beach.

Yet, most people are unaware of the rich basketball and cultural roots that the green courts — accompanied by old-school, double-rimmed hoops with weathered backboards and ratty nets — represent.

On any given day, future NBA or major-college players could be taking jump shots or lining the sidelines near the old, wooden benches, waiting to get their run.

The best of the best to come through Myrtle Beach — whether locals or tourists — have played at Midway Park, the name no one seems to use for the courts.

“Midway? Wow. I never knew that,” said Myrtle Beach native and 11-year NBA veteran Ramon Sessions, who grew up playing on the courts. “I knew it as Cinema 10, that’s it. We were going to Cinema 10 to play basketball. Let’s go.”

The regulars who play there now refer to the courts as “The Ten,” while others know it as “Cinema 10,” dating to the days when it was beside a movie theater that was demolished a couple decades ago, leaving behind only a vacant parking lot with weeds poking through the pavement. Others who played there some 30 years ago refer to the courts as “The Green Tops.”

“That just brings memories, brings almost like chills back, just cause as kids we didn’t have the luxury of having indoor places,” Sessions said. “We were so used to playing outside as kids back then that outside to us was almost better than inside — as crazy as it sounds.”

For decades, lifelong friendships have been made on those revered grounds and rivalries from near and far have been battled on that pavement.

And unbeknownst to many, the origins of the park date back to World War II.

‘AN IMMEDIATE HIT’

Located at 19 Tea Rose St., Midway Park originally was part of a vast area that served as an Army Air Field during World War II.

By the mid-1970s, when the then-Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was in the process of disbandment that ultimately finished with its closing in 1991, legislators received state approval to build a South Carolina National Guard Armory nearby that took up all but a parcel of land that wound up becoming Midway Park, according to Horry County Register of Deeds Department Director Marion Foxworth.

Midway Park, built on land that was deeded to the City of Myrtle Beach, was part of city officials’ plans to address the “quality of life” in the area, Foxworth said.

The basketball courts have been there for somewhere between three and four decades, city and county officials estimate. The park overall, however, was built in 1974, starting with tennis courts as “the tennis craze was sweeping the country,” Foxworth said.

Years later — Foxworth estimated to be around the late 1970s or early 1980s — a half-court basketball surface was laid down, paving the way for what later became a facility with full- and half-court play.

“The tennis courts were used for several years until the fad faded. Eventually, the city added a single half-court basketball facility. That halfcourt was an immediate hit,” Foxworth said. “Eventually, the city added lights so people could play at night. As the years passed, tennis continued to decline in interest and [as] development proceeded south from the center of town, the city decided to replace the tennis courts with more basketball courts. The park we have now is the result.”

The armory and Army National Guard Recruiting center located just west of the park serve as the only faint reminders of the land’s military origins, visible to all visiting the venue as Midway’s parking lot separates the two.

The name Midway Park, Foxworth said, derives from the fact that it — and an area off U.S. 301 in Marion County where the old Jimmy Carter’s Fireworks store was — were the midway points between New York and Miami when U.S. 17 and and 301 were the two main north-south corridors before Interstate 95 was built.

Myrtle Cinema 10, however, became synonymous with the basketball courts because of the proximity to one another. The cinema opened in the 1970s and closed in the late 1990s, coexisting with Midway Park for many years and leading to the made-up moniker “Cinema 10” that those who played there would call the courts for decades.

What “Cinema 10” would become over the years is much more storied than city officials anticipated.

“They weren’t sure it was going to get any use, but it took off like lightning,” Foxworth said. “When they first put it there, I don’t think they anticipated as many residents using it as it turned out. It was really more designed for tourists off [Ocean Boulevard] to have something to do.”

‘A SENSE OF COMMUNITY’

Midway Park has become essentially a mecca for basketball in Myrtle Beach.

On any given day, players of all ages, shapes and sizes, backgrounds, ethnicities, genders — you name it — show up to play.

There will be players wearing Nike apparel head to toe, others sporting “wife-beaters” and jean shorts, some playing shirtless, those with hats on or even folks who look like they don’t belong anywhere near a basketball court.

In the evenings, you might see construction workers in work clothes, dirt-covered shirts and paint-stained pants and boots. Come late night, there may be cooks and busboys with food- and drink-stained work outfits.

“We can get out here and have fun, it’s a stress reliever,” said Myrtle Beach resident Kenny Johnson, one of the court’s current regulars since 2006 and one of a core group who have become friends on and off the court after meeting there. “It’s something to keep our minds off a hard week of work and something to relax ourselves with.”

Midway Park is a place where there’s no charge to play, which draws players from all over the Grand Strand.

“It’s a sense of community. There’s not too many places where you can see this range of age collectively doing something together that’s positive, right?” said Myrtle Beach resident Karl Mroch, the creator of “The ‘ten ballers’” Facebook group that helps organize play. “You’re not going to see everyone on the beach doing that.”

Throughout the years, players have resorted to any means necessary to play at Midway Park.

Growing up, North Myrtle Beach’s Charles Ward, a veteran of pro basketball who came close to landing on an NBA roster years ago, said he’d hitch rides from the north end or meet girls on Ocean Boulevard with his friends in hopes of getting a ride to the court. On days when it’s rained, players haven shown up with towels, rakes, leaf-heavy tree branches from the forestry nearby or anything else that would help expedite the process of drying the courts.

“It’s busy almost year-round. You’ll drive by and see pickup games underway. It looks to be a wonderful bonding experience for anybody who really can play basketball,” City of Myrtle Beach Public Information Officer Mark Kruea said. “We’ve fielded questions from visitors who say ‘Hey, where can I go get a pickup game of basketball?’ and I point them to Midway Park.”

For locals, the courts have served as a place for young people to spend time, a safe haven that often keeps them from getting into trouble.

Myrtle Beach High alumnus Trello Galloway said Clifford Butler, a mentor of his and many other Myrtle Beach High basketball players over the years, would load up his van with kids and take them to the courts to “put us to the test.”

“The beautiful thing about Cinema 10 is I can’t think of one major incident that stopped us from going there. It was always just good, competitive basketball,” said Galloway, an overseas professional basketball veteran. “As kids, it gave us something to do. It kept us out of trouble.”

Sessions said parents would initially worry when their kids were out in the streets at night until they realized that they were at Midway Park, where games would sometimes go on until the wee hours of the morning. The lights normally don’t go out until 2 or 3 a.m.

“Whatever there is about basketball and pickup games, apparently that’s a great place for people to enjoy each other’s company,” Kruea said. “I’m not aware of any recurring issues there at all.”

Galloway attributes the lack of crime to the fact that no one wants to allow any ugly incidents to occur that could jeopardize the courts’ existence.

“There were never no police escorts or security out at the place. We policed ourselves. The atmosphere in itself didn’t accept it,” he said. “You’d have one or two guys who’d get into it because we’re competitive, but it stayed there.”

‘WE ALWAYS CAME OUT ON TOP’

While Midway Park has served as a safe haven for many throughout the years, that’s not to say it’s without friction.

Each year, groups from rival high school basketball teams head to the courts to get in some games. In some ways, the games serve as a precursor to high school basketball season.

“We always thought we was the best,” said Myrtle Beach High alumnus Akeem Hemingway. “We’d show up and we’d look to the right or left and we’d see Conway: ‘They can’t beat us,’ Socastee: ‘They can’t beat us.’ We always thought we was the best. That was our mentality.”

Travis Spivey, another MBHS alumnus who came up a little before Galloway, said his teams rarely lost. After all, he often showed up with a hand-picked five, which at times included high-level prospects he played with at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham, North Carolina.

“We always came out on top pretty much,” Spivey said. “It was hard to beat us.”

Players from other schools dispute Myrtle Beach players’ claims of owning the court, as factions have their own claim to dominance during any given era, year or, well, day.

“They had their fair share of days they ran it because of course that’s in their backyard,” Ward said. “When we used to come up there I don’t know about them running no court. They used to get off. … They had their fair share, but of course they’re going to be there more days versus everybody else cause they live right there. But they don’t like to tell the whole truth.”

Those aren’t the only players who have been known to show up with pre-set starting lineups.

Often the street ballers — guys who range anywhere in age and play almost exclusively on that court — run the court. Local college players have also been known to show up in squads.

One time, Coastal Carolina University’s starting lineup and more — Alvin Green, E.J. Gallup, Derrick Robinson, two-time Big South Player of the Year Torrey Butler, Tony Darden and Brandon Newby — came out.

“What was cool about Cinema 10 was that in the summer you would get guys from all over the place on vacation that saw the courts driving by and then would go there at night to get a run,” Gallup said. “So I think the night we all went together most of the other guys didn’t know who we were. They were all from different places, but that’s what made it fun.”

The out-of-towners are the common enemy among the locals who play at Midway Park. With visitors posing a threat, those from any of the surrounding high schools — and the Cinema 10 regulars — often become one.

“That’s when everybody that’s been here, that’s when we all play together, set all the differences aside, the rivalries that we’ve got amongst each other that’s the day that it’s one unit because we ain’t trying to lose,” Johnson said. “We ain’t trying to have nobody come into our city and take over. No, we ain’t going to have that.”

Sometimes the foreigners-vs.-locals games have gotten so competitive that they’ve became annual rivalries.

“It’s funny. It almost seemed like we would start running into people every year, like every summer,” Sessions said. “It was almost like, I don’t know if they were coming to vacation in Myrtle Beach or if they were coming just to play at Cinema 10. It almost became like you knew summertime ‘OK, I’m going to see that team again and see what they did this summer.’ It was so competitive.”

Later in his professional career, Ward would run into guys who would recognize him from Midway Park.

“It comes full circle,” said Ward, who said he would study other players’ games at the court and take on some of their moves if he liked them.

Another part of the rivalries is trash talk, a staple when it comes to basketball. According to Galloway, that’s what makes Midway Park one of the United States’ premier streetball courts.

“It’s real, live street basketball. It’s streetball. It’s trash talk,” he said. “You know when you come to Cinema 10 you’re gonna hear the trash talk. We’re going to talk our trash. The other team’s gonna talk their trash. Guys riding by are gonna see some of the moves, the dunks you made and hit the horn and praise you and some guys ride by ‘Hey, you suck!’

“But guess what? All of that — especially as a kid — is preparation for the next step, especially us going to college and later playing pro. That’s what happens. Sometimes that’s what drives you also.”

‘IT’S LEGENDARY’

Though Sessions has 11 years of NBA experience, he’s not the biggest name to play on the green tops.

Spivey said he brought former NBA standouts Tracy McGrady, a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and six-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal to Midway in the late 1990s.

“McGrady, he just kind of came out there and stood around. Jermaine played a little bit,” Spivey said of his former Mount Zion teammate, “T-Mac,” and O’Neal, a Columbia native.

Other guys with NBA experience who’ve played there over the years include Raymond Felton of Latta High, Charles Shackleford (deceased) of Wilmington, N.C., Chris Wilcox of Whiteville, N.C., Cedric Simmons of Shallotte, N.C., and Whiteville’s Jerrod Mustaf, who runs the Street Basketball Association and has made appearances at the court with well-known street ballers such as “White Chocolate,” “Pat the Roc” and “Baby Shaq.” Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan have also been rumored to have showed up.

Long before he became an NBA player, Sessions found himself in awe while seeing Shackleford at Midway.

“He was one of those guys that came out there like ‘Wow. This is a guy that’s in the NBA that is out here playing at Cinema 10,’” said Sessions, 33, who says his NBA success as a penetrator rather than outside shooter dates back to his days playing outside at places like Midway Park, where ocean breezes make shooting an obstacle. “It was like a Rucker Park in Myrtle Beach.”

Aside from NBA players, many guys who played Division I basketball came through. Some of those names included the Haley Twins (Sammie and Simeon) of Myrtle Beach who played at Missouri, Courtland Freeman of Socastee (Georgetown), Tre’Darius McCallum of Myrtle Beach (DePaul), J.R. Raymond of Mount Zion (Oklahoma) and Brett Blizzard (UNC Wilmington).

The list of notable others includes Everett Golson of Myrtle Beach (Florida State and Notre Dame football), women’s Division I players Khadijah Sessions of Myrtle Beach (University of South Carolina) and Christina Dewitt of North Myrtle Beach (University of North Carolina), former Coastal Carolina men’s basketball coach Pete Strickland and rapper Roscoe Dash, who local magician Carl Michael brought out to play once.

“It’s legendary, man,” said Galloway, who played Division I ball at Georgia State. “That landmark is legendary. I ride by sometimes now and I laugh and smile with the kids because I’ll just be like ‘Man, Daddy used to put some work in out there.’”

‘THE TEN’ IN 2019

Today, basketball at Midway Park has advanced to the digital age.

Instead of blindly showing up at any given time of day hoping others are there, Mroch’s Facebook group serves as a vehicle to help organize the games. He said he started the online gathering place three or four years ago and it now has more than 200 members, and some sport T-shirts with the group’s name on them.

“It started by just trying to tag seven or eight people on a post to try to get them all to come and play basketball,” Mroch said. “I did that for like two months over and over again and I just wore myself out. So I said ‘You know what? Let me just make a page where we can talk about playing basketball and go play basketball.’”

Just about every day someone posts in the group to gauge how the numbers are looking.

Midway basketball has also grown socially throughout the years. Often times the person gauging the day’s outlook is one of the handful of females in the group. It’s a far cry from the years when a female showing up would draw stereotypical misconceptions.

“They really didn’t know what I was capable of doing since I was a girl,” said Dewitt, who played some professional ball after her stint at UNC. “[Then they started] guarding me like I was one of the guys — physical but not to hurt me. It just made me tough. It made it easier for me when I played in high school. I had to learn how to score on men.”

Players like Dewitt, former Myrtle Beach stars Ashley Clarke and Khadijah Sessions and others paved the way for those who are regulars there now.

“They don’t have to earn their respect as much,” Mroch said. “It’s just given like any other baller on the court. They’ll still get dunked on. They’ll still get the ball rejected. It’s just another player. I think the modern age of people is becoming more accepting of everyone doing anything.”

Ramon Sessions, who played there well before the social media boon, believes having such a tool sooner would have been overwhelming.

“If it was social media time when we was going, it might not have been a big enough place to hold that many people because it would have been unreal,” he said. “Just for us, everybody kind of knew that when the sun went down it was time to go to Cinema 10.”

In many senses, not much has changed over the years aside from the faces who show up. Still, those who have moved on in their careers or personal lives light up when talking about their days on those courts.

“Sometimes I’m the guy now riding by hitting the horn,” Galloway said. “I wish sometimes just off of [Highway] 17 there was a little parkway where you could pull over and pull in and watch for 2 or 3 minutes. I think a lot of guys would have.”

The city periodically repaves the courts, repairs broken rims and ripped nets and fixes issues with the lights. While several players noted further improvements they’d like to see such as better bathrooms — now there’s portable toilets as the old bathroom facility just northwest of the courts has been closed for years — parking out front, better benches and more, there’s no denying that many of those nuances are what makes the place unique.

To many, those are just characteristics that add to the magic of Midway Park — or whatever you want to call it.

“Cinema 10 — I don’t even think that’s the name of it, Cinema 10,” Galloway said. “But that’s all we ever knew because of the movie theater that we’re going to Cinema 10. And for us, man, you may tell us everyday what the name is — for us it’s forever Cinema 10 in our hearts.”

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