Hoops and hopes
Pawtucket’s Midnight Basketball League, which has helped curb neighborhood street violence, returns for another summer
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.”
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.