Years after Ben Piggott left his job as supervisor at William C. Sims Community Center, people continued to stop by and ask for him.
Such was his impact on thousands of kids, whether it was providing them with free piano lessons, taking them on trips to colleges or offering them a safe place to play and do homework after school.
Piggott’s spirit will always linger around the center on Alder Street in Happy Hills where he worked for 22 years. His imprint is now evident in a more tangible way.
At a ceremony last week, the new gymnasium floor at the center was named the Ben Piggott Basketball Court. The still-sparkling court features a drawing of his face near one sideline and his signature on another.
Piggott, who retired from the city in 2017 after a 31-year career, shakes his head in disbelief at the honor.
“I’m very humbled,” Piggott said. “I always tell people that I was blessed to work with children. I feel like it was missionary work.”
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Named the center’s first supervisor when it opened in 1991, Piggott made the community center a safe-haven for kids growing up in the area and the former Happy Hills Gardens, a public-housing complex that was torn down in 2004. Some of kids who passed through Sims while Piggott was supervisor included Tory Woodbury, a former NFL player; DeRon Middleton, the football coach at Winston-Salem Prep; and L’Tona Lamonte, the women’s basketball coach at Winston-Salem State University.
But there are thousands more, the common denominator being Piggott’s love for them all.
“I love the ones who succeeded, and I love the ones who did not,” he said.
As Piggott talked about his career at the Sims, Joshua Paige popped into the center. Piggott recognized him from across the court and embraced him. Paige went to Sims regularly in the 1990s.
They talked about the old days and shared some laughs.
“He’s a person who has been in everybody’s life,” Paige said.
Their memories included the time that David Lash, who exposed countless Black children to tennis, brought two special visitors to Sims shortly after Piggott started. Their names were Venus and Serena Williams, then around 12 years old.
When rain started, threatening the exhibition, Piggott lowered the poles on the volleyball net and turned it into a makeshift tennis court.
The kids who were at the exhibition, now in their 30s and 40s, talked about their memories of that day at the court unveiling last week.
“It was one of the biggest miracles that ever happened here,” Piggott said.
A month after Piggott took the job, his brother Kermit was killed. From that grief, he started the Peace Toys for War Toys exchange, in which violent toy guns and swords are traded for basketballs, puzzles and other peaceful toys.
“I want to let kids know that just because you’re angry, don’t use violence to solve your problems,” Piggott told the Journal in 2017. “Fire brings more fire, but love brings more love.”
Piggott was a stickler for academics. When kids came to the center after school, they had to go to the gym and do their homework on tables scattered throughout on what was then a tile floor.
His main message to all the kids was the same: “You can be somebody.”