The Modesto Bee
September 7, 2016
The Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club, a Modesto institution and a sports and recreational pioneer in its heyday, has been sold and eventually will become a charter school sponsored by tennis champion Andre Agassi.
Club President Wayne Zipser, operations manager Shanale Phipps and administrative volunteer Ruben Patron confirmed Wednesday that the SOS, founded in 1957, will remain open at least another year to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
It then will become a kindergarten-12th-grade charter school under the banner of the Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, which has built 50 schools educating about 22,800 students nationwide.
The sale price was $2.6 million, Zipser said, though escrow will not close until next July 1.
“It’s going to benefit the community in a different way,” Zipser said. “It will not be the SOS Club, but the spirit of what it will provide to the community will still be there.”
The SOS Club, which still has 550 members – down from around 2,200 during its peak years in the 1980s – has struggled over the past 15 years as competition in the health and fitness business grew. Maintenance costs on the sprawling 55,000-square-foot property increased, and the club was forced to sell its softball fields in 2005.
1957The founding year of the Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club
Options were considered since the beginning of the year, but the club never was up for sale. Turner-Agassi officials, who liked the facility and especially its location in a low-income neighborhood, approached the club this year.
“We didn’t want to get to the point of the YMCA – bankrupt,” Zipser said. “We wanted to make sure if we did this, we would do it with dignity and not owe a bunch of money to a bank and be foreclosed. We wanted ... to celebrate the 60 years that truly provided Modesto with the heritage that it’s had.”
There is a possibility the SOS Club will be relocated to a smaller location. The present venue will remain the site for the annual Outstanding Athlete Awards Dinner, which recognizes the top athletes in Stanislaus County each year.
“Now that we’ve closed one of the options, we’re opening a new chapter,” Zipser said. “Now where do we go? What do we do? How do we keep the legacy alive? I don’t know.”
IT WILL NOT BE THE SOS CLUB, BUT THE SPIRIT OF WHAT IT WILL PROVIDE TO THE COMMUNITY WILL STILL BE THERE.
Agassi, 46, turned to a new passion – charter school education and helping at-risk youth – before his retirement from tennis in 2006. The eight-time Grand Slam champion launched his new program with the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, which opened in Las Vegas in 2001. He and his wife, women’s tennis champion Steffi Graf, reportedly were not involved in the SOS negotiations.
The SOS was founded by Tom Mellis, Henry Zipser (Wayne’s father), Tom Moore, Bill Moorad and others as a men’s-only health and social club and also as a haven for track and field athletes competing at the Modesto Relays.
The club soon became a social nerve-center for the city and was a stop on the sports banquet circuit. A-list athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio, Jack Dempsey, John Elway and many others spoke to large crowds there, and their photos are still featured at the club.
“It was the place to be in terms of networking,” said Patron, an SOS member since 1980. “It was a serene place to go, as opposed to the $10 gyms you go to now.”
The SOS eventually switched to a coed facility and marketed itself as a family-friendly venue. Lifestyles changed, however, and people were drawn to smaller clubs where they could do their workout and leave quickly. The SOS was designed for a different time and era.
“My father was the one who signed the papers to open it, and I’m the one who signed the papers to close it,” Zipser said. “It’s an emotional time for me.”