Tory Joyner came to the job of executive director of the Statesboro Family YMCA with a family legacy in YMCA management and career experience deeper than might be expected at a startup.
Joyner, with about 20 years of experience as a YMCA professional, was hired in July to head the YMCA of Coastal Georgia's new Statesboro branch and started work in mid-August. By then, the facility was taking shape through renovation of the former Sallie Zetterower Elementary School on Clairborne Avenue at East Jones. Local people had planned for several years, acquired the building and grounds, raised money and sought the regional association's help to create a Statesboro-based Y with programs tailored for the community.
Statesboro Family YMCA board chair Bob Mikell and YMCA of Coastal Georgia District Vice President Krystal McGee took Joyner to lunch and showed him Statesboro before he went to Savannah to interview for the job.
"One question Bob asked me was like, 'When you hear about the Y, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?' and I told him, 'Family,' because that is major with me as far as with the Y because I grew up in the Y. My father was in the Y, has worked for the YMCA for 50 years."
His father, Norman Joyner, worked in YMCA management, serving as CEO of the association in Birmingham, Alabama; as director of the Winston Lake YMCA in North Carolina; and in various roles at Y locations in other states, including Florida and California. He continues to do consulting work for the YMCA national organization, his son said.
"I just kind of grew up as a kid being in the Y and meeting friends and playing sports and going to summer camps and all that kind of stuff," Joyner said.
His parents, Norman and Patricia Joyner, married 50 years, live in Atlanta. Tory Joyner has a daughter, Tairan, now a sophomore at Berry University in Miami. But he made the move to Statesboro alone.
His office in the back of the fitness center has a window into the interior of the gym. It would be a setup familiar to many physical education teachers, except that when he looks through that window he sees adults working out on rows of brand-new exercise equipment.
A framed jersey hangs on the wall behind Joyner's desk. He excelled at basketball for Carver High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he was named to an all-state team and twice as a Street & Smith's All-American. Joyner then played for Wichita State University, in Kansas, three years before going to North Carolina Central University for his final year of college.
Basketball is another father-son tradition. Norman Joyner's place in the Shaw University Athletic Hall of Fame can be found on the Shawbears.com website.
Tory Joyner, now 45, graduated from N.C. Central with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, but some practicum experiences were as close as he got to police work. Then his father asked if he had ever considered working for the Y, and Joyner started looking.
He found a job as wellness director with YMCA of the Triangle in Durham and later moved into supervising sports programs there.
For the last 11 years before coming here, he worked for the Metro Atlanta YMCA at its Villages at Carver branch. After starting as community program director for the then-new branch, he got involved with sports again and became Villages at Carver Family YMCA wellness and sports director.
"A lot of kids were really just in the streets and they just weren't getting anything positive to do. ...," Joyner recalled of his early days at Carver.
At first, residents of the south Atlanta neighborhood didn't know what to expect of a YMCA.
"Some people thought it was going to be something so big and nice that nobody could really afford to go there, but when they found out what the Y's about, that it's for anybody and we don't turn people away, they were like, 'Oh, wow!' "
While he was there, the Metro Atlanta YMCA grew a partnership with a Major League Baseball franchise that was the first of its kind, he said, among YMCA organizations nationwide.
The YMCA Junior Braves Baseball Academy was built at the Villages at Carver, where four Braves players contributed $75,000 each to develop four fields. The fields were named for those Braves of a decade ago, John Smoltz, Mike Hampton, Brian Jordan and Chipper Jones. Youth ages 3-14 compete in the league comprising more than 30 teams.
Joyner developed a friendship with Brian Jordan, the retired Braves outfielder who had also played football briefly with the Falcons and is more recently a TV sports analyst. At Joyner's request, Jordan came to Statesboro in December as guest emcee of the Run the Boro 5K, with proceeds going to the Statesboro Family Y.
Now 1,800 members
Since the Y opened in October, membership has grown faster than the founders dared to expect. As of Monday, the Statesboro Family Y had 828 family membership units, including 1,809 individuals, Mikell said. He gets his reports from Joyner, who one week earlier reported 680 units and 1,511 individual members.
More than 40 fitness classes a week are currently scheduled, including programs in aerobics, yoga, Zumba, Pilates, some with variations for children and seniors, and cycling programs in the spin studio. There are also ballet classes, other dance classes and martial arts classes.
In January the local YMCA launched Y Achievers. Youth ages 11-18 can join to do community service projects together, interact with Y Achievers from other branches at summits and take field trips.
Staff of 30-plus
Statesboro Family YMCA now employs more than 30 people, but Joyner is the only full-time employee, he said. Many of the part-timers are Georgia Southern University students. They and others work as instructors and personal trainers and in Child Watch rooms and the "welcome center" or front desk. All undergo background checks, are certified in CPR and receive training in YMCA procedures and values, he said.
Mikell agreed that Joyner has an unusual level of in-field experience for a startup organization, but compared his reasons to those of a coach who once took a job with a college's beginning football team.
"I think the unique opportunity of starting a branch in a city our size from the ground up was appealing to him as well as the incredible potential of that specific facility," Mikell said. "Starting something, almost like Erk Russell, from the ground up. ..."
Joyner is also a former basketball player running a YMCA with no basketball gym, but Mikell and other volunteers hope to add one with a later phase of fundraising.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.