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"Hoops" how-to an assist for new 'hoods

More than two dozen people representing 11 Chicago neighborhoods gathered in North Lawndale to learn how to organize their own versions of "Hoops in the Hood," the successful Friday-night summer series that has joined street basketball and arts for youth with health and community outreach to all ages.

(For a taste of Hoops in Little Village, click here to see an audio slide show: .)

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

This young man clearly worked hard for his trophies during the 2007 Hoops finals..

The history of Hoops in the Hood stretches back to Pilsen in 1999, when NCP lead agency The Resurrection Project started a summer street ball league for young people. From the very beginning, organizers wanted to use sports as a way to engage youth and bring positive energy to a community divided by gangs.

"Everybody says, 'Let's get the kids off the street.' Our approach was, let's put the kids on the streets, let families take over the block," Alvaro Obregon, who helped create the original league, told the group during the Dec. 4 event at Westlawn Gospel Church.

With help from the alderman, local police and other partners, the "ragtag" league has grown into nine years of Friday-night basketball and barbecue on different blocks in the neighborhood, often injecting a peaceful presence into neighborhood hotspots.


Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

A happy hoopster sports a smile wider than the 3-point arc.

"Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine this going beyond the bounds of Pilsen," Obregon said. Yet in recent years Little Village and North Lawndale picked up on the idea and added new twists, such as arts for kids who didn't want to play ball and health screenings for parents and other adults.

Last summer, Pilsen, Little Village, North Lawndale and Back of the Yards brought teams to a championship held at Little Village Lawndale High School. (See story here.) After hearing the history, participants shared the visions that drive their interest in the program.

"We want to create a relationship with police officers," said Graciela Robledo, NCP organizer for Claretian Associates, the new NCP lead agency in South Chicago. "We've seen violence where police are shooting kids. That's scaring off kids. We don't want them to be scared."

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

"Hoops in the Hood" meets "Phi Slamma Jamma."

"We have this generational gap, an old-school/new-school mentality," observed Keith Muhammad, community organizer with Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp., NCP lead agency in Humboldt Park. "We want to create that dialogue, that sense of conversing together."

"We want to engage the alderman, CAPS and other organizations," said Michelle Simon of Game Time, which works in Chatham and South Shore. Another of her goals is to offer wintertime activities, a departure from how Hoops in the Hood has traditionally worked.

Workshop facilitator Julian Lazalde of NCP lead agency Little Village Community Development Corp. welcomed this creativity, saying, "[Hoops] isn't just static."

Some new partners have already moved in Game Time's direction, such as Beyond the Ball, which is developing a winter league in the new gym built by North Lawndale's Westlawn Gospel Church, which hosted the meeting.

"It doesn't have to be a traveling league," Lazalde noted. It doesn't even have to be called Hoops in the Hood. "It's on you guys to name it whatever you want."

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

In addition to the hoops itself, Hoops in the Hood brings together art activities -- which these girls clearly enjoyed -- public health information, and a public safety presence.

At heart, it may not even have to be basketball. NCP lead agency The Near West Side Community Development Corporation scored a home run this summer by reviving a long-dormant youth baseball league. The league also supports its young players year-round with tutoring.

Near West Side CDC is considering expanding into basketball as it begins to work in new territory, says LaShunda Gonzalez, NCP director. "We want to go into our new boundaries with our organizational identity and let folks know what we do."

What Hoops in the Hood does require is strong partnerships and thorough planning. Although this session didn't crunch numbers, Little Village's first-year budget came to about $25,000. The Chicago Bulls are providing funds to help with start-up costs for a basketball league, like portable hoops.

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

As evening turns to night, thumps, grunts and swishes continue.

Participants were advised to start small, find partners and prepare by recruiting block club volunteers, coaches and youth teams months in advance. That's exactly what Back of the Yards is doing as it transitions from sending teams to Little Village to creating a league of its own.

"We're working on a satellite league that would tie into the larger championship," says Xavier McElrath-Bey of Catholic Charities. The plan is to hold a six- to eight-week season on Friday nights in the area just north of Sherman Park, tough blocks where Catholic Charities and other partners have offices and know the community well.

In thinking about non-sports activities to run in tandem with the street ball, Lazalde invited everyone to consider the social, economic, political and organizing components that could help each new league achieve its creators' underlying vision.

"This should be more than just basketball," he said. 

Browse NCP articles related to

Arts, Crime/safety, Parks/Recreation, Youth , Partners, Block clubs, Health

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