Chi­nese vol­ley­ball court in crosshairs of de­vel­op­ment

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY PHILIP MARCELO

BOS­TON | A mod­est as­phalt court that served as a nurs­ery for a unique style of vol­ley­ball played by Chi­nese im­mi­grants across the coun­try now stands in the way of de­vel­op­ment, touch­ing off a battle over preser­va­tion.

The prime slice of Chi­na­town real es­tate is steps from busy South Sta­tion and is home to a 1930s-era steam plant with tow­er­ing smoke­stacks and a mod­ern state govern­ment of­fice.

But it is also the site of Reg­gie Wong Me­mo­rial Park, a sim­ple basketball and vol­ley­ball court where the game known as nine-man de­vel­oped over gen­er­a­tions.

Nine-man holds a spe­cial place for those of Chi­nese de­scent, said Tun­ney Lee, an ur­ban stud­ies and plan­ning pro­fes­sor at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, whose fa­ther was a player and or­ga­nizer.

The game traces its roots to a style of vol­ley­ball de­vel­oped in Tais­han, a south­ern Chi­nese city where many of the ear­li­est Chi­nese im­mi­grants hailed from, and be­came a crit­i­cal so­cial out­let for im­mi­grants largely iso­lated from broader Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

“Part of the im­age of the Chi­nese was that of weak­lings who were pas­sive and servile,” Mr. Lee said. “Vol­ley­ball was a skill sport with strat­egy, teamwork and ag­gres­sive­ness.”

Stan­dard vol­ley­ball has six play­ers on each side. At its most ba­sic, nine-man in­volves more play­ers, a larger court and mod­i­fied rules. To­day’s or­ga­niz­ers say the first in­ter­city game hap­pened in Bos­ton in 1935, be­tween lo­cals and a team from Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land.

The com­pe­ti­tions steadily grew over the years, with Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties in New York, New Jersey, San Fran­cisco, Los An­ge­les and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., reg­u­larly field­ing teams to play on the streets, al­ley­ways and park­ing lots of Bos­ton’s Chi­na­town.

The North Amer­i­can Chi­nese In­vi­ta­tional Vol­ley­ball Tour­na­ment, which started in the 1940s a few blocks from Wong Park, car­ries on the in­ter­city ri­valry to­day, host­ing an an­nual com­pe­ti­tion in a dif­fer­ent Chi­na­town each La­bor Day week­end.

Mas­sachusetts Gov. Char­lie Baker’s Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan seek­ing pro­pos­als last month to pur­chase and de­velop the five-acre site that’s home to Wong Park as a cen­ter­piece of his pledge to gen­er­ate rev­enue and spur de­vel­op­ment by un­load­ing un­der­used govern­ment land.

Chi­na­town ac­tivists and nine-man en­thu­si­asts have voiced their con­cerns at com­mu­nity meet­ings this past year, prompt­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­quire de­vel­op­ers to pro­pose ways to carve out a pub­lic park some­where on the site at least as big as the cur­rent court.

Pa­trick Marvin, a spokesman for the state De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion, which is over­see­ing the land sale, notes the state is re­quir­ing prospec­tive de­vel­op­ers to guar­an­tee the park re­mains pub­lic. It also is call­ing for other open space ar­eas on the de­vel­op­ment site.

But some in Chi­na­town want the state to re­quire a larger park with more ameni­ties. They also want guar­an­tees that a tem­po­rary space will be carved out dur­ing con­struc­tion so or­ga­nized games can con­tinue un­in­ter­rupted. And they worry not enough hous­ing built on the prop­erty will be af­ford­able to low­er­wage Chi­na­town res­i­dents.

The park is the lat­est bat­tle­ground in the decades-long de­bate over gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in one of the na­tion’s old­est and largest Chi­na­towns. The neigh­bor­hood, with nar­row streets lined with in­de­pen­dent store­fronts and eater­ies, has with­stood waves of re­de­vel­op­ment dat­ing to the 1950s, when an in­ter­state high­way was cut through it.

Rus­sell Eng, who coaches teen vol­ley­ball at the park, named af­ter his un­cle, says it keeps the Chi­nese com­mu­nity con­nected even as more in­creas­ingly live in sub­urbs, some of which have sprouted their own satel­lite Chi­na­towns.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Bos­ton Knight vol­ley­ball team player (front) go up for a spike against the Bos­ton Hur­ri­canes Black team at Wong Park in Bos­ton’s Chi­na­town neigh­bor­hood.

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