This is a rendering example of a mural. Final art installation to be determined. | Provided

Imagine this: Three basketball courts spread across the blacktop at Whittier Elementary School, each decked out in school colors – baby blue and yellow – and a portrait of the wildcat mascot, sporting its signature shades and thumbs up sign. There are a couple benches lining the courts’ perimeter for all to use and a garbage bin nearby to help keep the designated new hangout space clean.

Whittier QR code to Fundly page.

This is the plan – or at least the hope – of the school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO), which has spent the last months brainstorming ideas to fix up that blacktop, an empty spot by the backside of the building. The PTO is now raising money to fund the estimated $21,000 project, which includes the permanent installation of three half-court basketball courts and three basketball hoops. Each basketball court will be 30-feet by 30-feet, according to the organization’s blueprint. The courts will feature two 9 feet tall basketball hoops for the older students and an 8 feet tall hoop for the younger ones. The PTO also wants to add a pair of benches by the courts and a new garbage bin at Whittier, 715 N. Harvey Ave.

PTO co-president Dominique Betancourt-Schaap said the organization looks to raise the money by the end of this school year in time for the district’s summer renovation plans to resurface that blacktop.

“Our blacktop is what I would call a desolate place that’s cracked and needs all this TLC,” she told Wednesday Journal.

“Instead of it just being three hoops, we wanted to really make it something of value … where when people drive by it, they’re like, ‘Whoa. That’s an impressive addition to the school,’”

Dominique bentancourt-schaap, pto co-president

During the pandemic, Betancourt-Schaap said the blacktop at Whittier became a safe haven for many families looking for reprieve from their homes and a vital link for social interaction. Because of COVID-19, there were families with young children whose first school-related experiences were built right on that blacktop, she said.

That’s when the PTO began thinking about what they could to better that area, she added. Betancourt-Schaap said the PTO donated a gaga ball pit, an octagonal pit used to play a version of dodgeball but sought to include more outdoor activities. Out of the 10 schools in Oak Park District 97, Whittier is among a handful that does not have a basketball court, an addition that caught the attention of the school community. 

“We put out a survey. We said, ‘Hey, what do you guys think [of putting a basketball court on the blacktop?]” she recalled. “It overwhelmingly came back, ‘Yes, let’s do it. This is great.’”

As the PTO pulled together a proposal to share with school officials, Betancourt-Schaap said she and other members kept one idea at the forefront: they wanted the basketball courts to be unique and special. Each of the courts, she said, is also named after Whittier’s motto: “Be responsible. Be respectful. Be safe.”

“Instead of it just being three hoops, we wanted to really make it something of value … where when people drive by it, they’re like, ‘Whoa. That’s an impressive addition to the school,’” she said.

“This is a true investment in the community. It’s meant to bring people together, not just to play a game,” she said. “It’s a place where people can gather, can connect outside of parks, [outside of going to] different schools.”

What you can do

The Whittier Elementary School PTO has launched a Fundly page to complement its efforts to raise money for the basketball courts. Those interested in learning more about the project or donating should visit fundly.com/whittier-basketball-hoops-and-court. The PTO will also be selling T-shirts at the May 15 school fun fair to seek support for the project.

The PTO is also looking for volunteers to help bring attention to the project and local artists to partner with to paint the courts’ murals. For inquiries, email PTO co-presidents Dominique Betancourt-Schaap and Vince Gay at president@whittierpto.org.

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