The Great Problem Solver?

By Tony Price
Updated: July 23, 2008

BOSTON — This topic is nothing new, the conversation around why it is that whenever a city or town perceives there is a major problem with the youths in their locations (code words for too many black youths are hanging out), the most often mentioned and accomplished solution is to build a basketball court?

In fact, the town that I reside in has just built a number of outdoor basketball courts, albeit with no programming, it’s a simple case of “If you build it they will come.”

The intentions are noble, but the risk of failure is also high. Because all it will take is for one terrible incident to happen and the courts will be closed down.

Yet with no programming in place we leave it up to the young people to police themselves and keep everything in check (risky) The proponents of this strategy for building basketball courts to address youth problems will argue that its a healthy way for these young people to channel their excessive energy in a positive manner.

Law enforcement officials, although many won’t say publicly like the idea, because they can keep an eye on a large number of potential suspects especially if they are at one central location.

On the flip side, the opponents of such strategy will argue that not everyone wants to play basketball as a way to keep busy, and in some cases these courts can become trouble spots for all type of illegal transactions, and violence.

Whose right? Whose wrong? As a basketball coach I know all of the benefits that are associated with playing the game, however as I wrote in a previous story (Sports Addiction) I also am very aware of the negative impacts of sports, particularly in the black community.

I hear this statement all the time “The kids love basketball” no kidding, if you were bombarded with thousands of images and constantly brow beat with one option for success, would it be any surprise that you would have a passion for that for that field.

In my honest opinion, I never saw building more basketball courts as a long term viable solution to address the issues and challenges our young people face today.

In fact, I think it furthers perpetuates the carefully crafted myth of blacks getting out of the ghetto by one of two means entertainment or sports. Yes I know its a popular game, amongst our youths, because its inexpensive to play, and kids really gravitate to it, but the focus on basketball is just a temporary fix, it does nothing in the long run to help them solve their problems of completing their education, obtaining marketable skills for employment, parenting, or learning to be wiser consumers.

Side Note:(Free of Charge)

I think its no coincidence that the leading recreational activity in the prison system is basketball, a system that’s over populated by young Blacks and Hispanics; why because these individuals come from the same communities where they’ve been inundated with the idea of basketball being their only way to stay busy or handle their business.

It’s a vicious cycle!

When affluent communities feel the need to address a youth problem, they seek to build community centers, a place that offers a variety of options that will help their kids prepare for the future, there are job training courses, computer workshops, mentoring , college prep, financial education, etc.

Yes they too offer sports and recreational activities, but they don’t limit it to basketball, you’ll find swimming, rock climbing, tennis, game rooms (for board games like chess) etc.

You see they understand that what they are providing is what Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu calls a “Safety net” I know you’re saying but they have the money to accomplish this task, and you are correct, but I would argue that often times when a city or town builds a basketball court its usually more than one and they pay contractors from outside of the community a hefty price tag.

I think if you must build multiple courts (maybe fear of gangs crossing other territories) why not build a simple enclosed structure or at least a structure with a roof and a few sections that can be drywalled or set up like cubicles.

Areas that can be designated for classroom sessions around the basketball courts, it doesn’t have to be elaborate, just something with a roof over top, rest room facilities, and the likes.

You could include a clause in the contractors agreement to donate building supplies and or labor to set up the classroom sections . This would attract a larger population that has no interest in sports to the building seeking activities that will benefit them.

If money is an issue then have the facility open for limited hours, I find it hard to believe that there is no money (grants, donations) available that won’t support this type of effort.

There are enough qualified and committed individuals in the community that truly care about the next generation who would gladly man the facility or volunteer their time, parents, teachers during the summer vacation, the elderly during the afternoons (we need to do a better job of connecting our youth with the wisdom of previous generations), off duty police, and so forth.

The suggestion I offered won’t solve all of the issues, but it would be far reaching and have a longer lasting effect as we attempt to influence the whole person not just enhance their physical skills through sports.

This way, our youth can keep pace with other young people from well off communities as we create our own safety nets to keep them out of the wrong GAME!