Hoops and hopes

Paw­tucket’s Mid­night Bas­ket­ball League, which has helped curb neigh­bor­hood street vi­o­lence, re­turns for an­other sum­mer

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN BIS­SON­NETTE jbis­son­nette@paw­tuck­et­times.com

PAW­TUCKET — Paw­tucket Po­lice Maj. Michael New­man is proud to say that res­i­dents around Payne Park are now more ac­cus­tomed to jump shots than gun­shots, as the Mid­night Bas­ket­ball League has proven to be a slam dunk over its two sea­sons in the Wood­lawn neigh­bor­hood.

The park at the in­ter­sec­tion of Ran­dall Street and West Av­enue was the epi­cen­ter for a wave of street vi­o­lence that plagued the city for much of the sum­mer of 2016. But since then, the sum­mer­time league has served as an out­let for area youths and adults to chan­nel their en­ergy into a friendly game of hoops.

New­man said prior to the ar­rival of the bas­ket­ball league, the im­me­di­ate area of Payne Park was plagued with a rash of in­ci­dents rang­ing from larce­nies and fights to break­ing and en­ter­ing. But now, the po­lice ma­jor says, “it pretty much dropped to zero,” not­ing that there were two re­ported larce­nies from a ve­hi­cle over a two-month pe­riod re­cently, com­pared to 50 over the same time frame a few years ago.

“Keep­ing ev­ery­one busy and full of life takes away a lot of the neg­a­tive things that were hap­pen­ing,” New­man said.

The Mid­night Bas­ket­ball League is headed up by di­rec­tor Larry Hol­loway. Two leagues are of­fered on Tues­day and

“We’ve seen more res­i­dents com­ing out of their homes, peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood, we’ve seen the vi­o­lence go down … There were a lot of shoot­ings years ago, that’s dra­mat­i­cally dropped. When we’re there, there’s no vi­o­lence.”

—League di­rec­tor Larry Hol­loway

Thurs­day evenings – one for adults over 18 years old and one for youths from six to 17 years old – and games tip off at 4 p.m. and end around 11 p.m. The four-week youth pro­gram has 40 kids play­ing, while the adult league has 10 teams with more than 100 play­ers.

Hol­loway said both the adult and youth leagues have seen a rapid growth this year.

“Last year they were still kind of reluc­tant, but they’ve seen the suc­cess...” Hol­loway said. “Last year, we had eight teams (in the adult league). So many peo­ple want to get in­volved.”

“We ask not to use foul lan­guage and re­spect the per­son next to you. Ev­ery­body’s been co­op­er­a­tive and that’s why we’re do­ing it again,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s al­most like a night out. You come out to the park, en­joy your­self, we play a lit­tle mu­sic. Have a good time and watch some good, qual­ity bas­ket­ball.”

Hol­loway has played an in­te­gral role in bring­ing Paw­tucket’s east and west sides to­gether by cre­at­ing the Payne Park Mid­night Bas­ket­ball League and the Smith­field Av­enue sum­mer bas­ket­ball league. For his ef­forts, Hol­loway last sum­mer was pre­sented with a key to the city.

Nine years ago, Hol­loway and his wife Erin started the Smith­field Av­enue sum­mer league, bring­ing to­gether 20 kids from ele­men­tary through high school to the courts on the city’s west side. Af­ter grow­ing

and evolv­ing, in­cor­po­rat­ing spon­sor­ships to pay for uni­forms and a lunch and din­ner pro­gram, that league has grown to nearly 200 play­ers.

New­man and Hol­loway credit many peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions with mak­ing the mid­night league pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing Mayor Don­ald R. Gre­bien, Parks Su­per­in­ten­dent John Blais, the Paw­tucket Po­lice De­part­ment, Pub­lic Works De­part­ment, Ro­tary Club, and Black­stone Val­ley Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Pro­gram.

New­man knows there are count­less ben­e­fits to pro­vid­ing sum­mer­time hoops for chil­dren, teens, and adults – both for them­selves and the com­mu­nity.

“It gets good peo­ple to­gether so they’re not out look­ing for other things to do. It fills the time, it’s a healthy out­let,” he said. “Phys­i­cally it’s healthy, men­tally it’s healthy, it just brings great peo­ple to­gether. It al­lows kids and young adults to be around peo­ple like Larry … He loves the sport and gets to pass that on to the kids.”

“You keep them busy, put them around pos­i­tive role mod­els, and it pays off div­i­dends,” he said.

Those div­i­dends, New­man notes, can be seen in a de­crease in street vi­o­lence in the area of Payne Park. The Wood­lawn park in sum­mer 2016 was a hub of street vi­o­lence, with mul­ti­ple shoot­ings and stab­bings. How­ever, the league seems to be one way that the vi­o­lence has been quashed in the im­me­di­ate area.

“We got zero com­plaints. No­body com­plained, not one neigh­bor,” the po­lice ma­jor

said. “All the neigh­bor­hood loves it. Peo­ple had some fears, I did too, but would you rather have a three-point shot or a real shot go­ing on?” Hol­loway con­curred. “We’ve seen more res­i­dents com­ing out of their homes, peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood, we’ve seen the vi­o­lence go down … There were a lot of shoot­ings years ago, that’s dra­mat­i­cally dropped. When we’re there, there’s no vi­o­lence,” he said. “We’ve seen larce­nies and home breaks go down to zero. We’re go­ing to shine a light on the ar­eas and that’s what we do.”

“What we use is bas­ket­ball to get them there,” Hol­loway said of the play­ers. “Once we get them there, we talk to them. Some are try­ing to find their way, and we give some di­rec­tion in life. I like to bring in some peo­ple from the col­leges. My goal is to make sure we get ev­ery­body go­ing in a good di­rec­tion in life.”

Among the in­for­ma­tion avail­able at sum­mer­time bas­ket­ball league games in­cludes how to ap­ply for col­lege or sign up for a trade.

The sea­son comes to an end on Aug. 4 with a cham­pi­onship game and cook­out on Smith­field Av­enue, along with a Po­lice De­part­ment-led autism fundraiser.

The league is far from the lone ac­tiv­ity of­fered this sum­mer in the area of Payne Park. On Satur­day, a pa­rade for unity, love, art, cul­ture, and peace will step off at 1 p.m. from 10 Rocks at 1091 Main St. and pro­ceed to Payne Park, where a block party will com­mence un­til 8 p.m.

Also, Payne Park will soon be un­der­go­ing a makeover, as the city is mov­ing for­ward with the next phase of park ren­o­va­tions. The most notable planned ad­di­tion to the park is a 2,500-square-foot spray park that will be in­stalled to pro­vide a fun place for chil­dren on hot sum­mer days. The spray park will run along West Av­enue to al­low eas­ier ac­cess to the Wood­lawn Com­mu­nity Cen­ter.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the park’s ex­ist­ing bas­ket­ball courts will be ex­panded, with up­grades in­clud­ing new fenc­ing, light­ing, back­boards, and court resur­fac­ing. Bleachers will also be in­stalled be­tween the two courts. The play­ground area, mean­while, will see new pan­els and pieces to re­place those that have been faded by the sun and new swings will also be in­stalled. A shade canopy is also be­ing added, as well as new climb­ing fea­tures for chil­dren to stay ac­tive. The park will also see new pic­nic ta­bles, benches, a seat­ing wall, gam­ing ta­bles, and wa­ter bot­tle fill­ing sta­tions, city of­fi­cials have said.

“The splash park, it’s just what the kids need, some­where cool to go,” New­man said. “It’ll add more peo­ple to the park. The more peo­ple that are there, the less chances some­thing bad hap­pens.”

Ernest A. Brown file photo

Erickson Bans, of Paw­tucket, gets to the hoop for two points dur­ing Paw­tucket Sum­mer League hoops ac­tion at Payne Park in Paw­tucket last Au­gust. Two leagues are of­fered on Tues­day and Thurs­day evenings – one for adults over 18 years old and one for youths from six to 17 years old – and games tip off at 4 p.m. and end around 11 p.m. The four-week youth pro­gram has 40 kids play­ing, while the adult league has 10 teams with more than 100 play­ers.

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