Participation is up at the Longfellow Park basketball court, where organizers have so far been pleased with the revived program that’s now entering its fourth year.
Since a full court was first installed in 2009 at the park at Ridgeland Avenue and Jackson Boulevard, the Park District of Oak Park staff has increased its drop-in hours there. They’ve hired more supervisors and trained them so they’re able to work at the district’s two other courts at Barrie and Stevenson parks. In 2010, they started to track participation hours so they know when to keep the courts open.
Staff say the park has come a long way since there was only a sunken half court without the spectator area that exists now. The rims are still removable and only go up when there’s a supervisor present.
“I’ve seen basketball kind of come back because of things like these,” said Bobbi Nance, the park district’s recreation manager, about the improvements in 2009.
There have been concerns within the last decades that full courts create too much competition and might attract players—mostly young black men—who were not local. Courts disappeared from Maple, Lindberg and Ridgeland Common parks for that reason during the 1990s.
Matt Ellmann, interim executive director of the park district, said while staff was researching before the re-do, they found that a lot of other districts only put in half courts. The ones that had full courts were farther from Chicago than neighboring Oak Park. Ellmann said those areas didn’t have a strong African American population and only a few people were using them each day.
He’s heard suggestions that people be carded with membership passes, but he thinks it would turn people away.
“I don’t know where people are from, and wherever they’re from is fine with me as long as they follow the rules,” he said.
That attitude came through in a community survey the district did after the program’s first year. The majority of responses were very positive, Nance added.
Shortly after the rims went up on Monday afternoon, a few people shot baskets on each side and another group sat in the bleachers. New kids would trickle in, tossing their backpacks aside and getting in the game without having to ask.
The supervisor on duty, Hector Garcia, said the biggest problems he’s had in his two years with the district are small arguments and swearing. He said he’s gotten to know a lot of the kids, which fosters a more respectful atmosphere. One kid came up to say hi and shake his hand, laughing as he reminded Garcia he had beaten him the last time they played.
If things got too heated, the rims could be taken down, but Garcia said he’s never had to do that. The kids don’t mind the supervision, he said, and the biggest complaint he’s gotten is that they wish the court was open longer.
One neighbor who didn’t want to be named agreed the court should be open more hours. She said the eastern part of the village tends to have more kids without backyards who need recreation.
As she watched the ongoing game Monday, Rayniesha Lawrence, a student at Oak Park and River Forest High School, said she’s never had a hard time playing with the mostly male group. There are a few girls who will regularly come and play, she said, and everyone gets along regardless of their gender or color.
Peggy Sinko, who lives across the street from the park, said she’s satisfied with the supervision and removal of rims at a reasonable hour.
“I can hear people yelling (but) I live on a busy street across from a park, so I don’t expect it to be a monastery,” she said.
“It’s going much better than I thought it was going to go,” said Ted Gooch, another neighbor who was skeptical at the beginning.
“As of now, it’s going pretty good.”