By John Rice
Back in 1997, I wrote about what I saw as the village's most pressing problem: the need for an indoor recreation center.
"Having an indoor recreation center would address a problem facing many of our Forest Park pre-teens and teens," I said. "It would give them something to do during the long winter months."
"I asked a group of responsible, mature Forest Park teens what they did for entertainment in our village. They told me their principal activity was 'walking around.' Basically, they walk around looking for someone to be home, something to do, someplace to eat. 'Walking around' was one step above 'standing around,' which they would do on street corners. This indicates there was no destination worth walking to for these teen-agers.
"When I was in high school, just after the last glaciers retreated, I hung out with a group in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, who happened to be the top students in my high school. They were not stay-at-home bookworms. They went out on school nights. Their social life centered on the local recreation center, where they could play basketball, etc. The center brought the whole neighborhood together."
Since I wrote those words 20 years ago, much has changed. I still see teens wandering the streets, but it's not as prevalent as it used to be. Today, it's more likely they're indoors video-gaming or gazing at screens. I don't see them standing on the street corners anymore because we installed benches where they can sit. Sometimes, I see a teen dribbling a basketball and it pains me to think there's virtually no place in town to shoot hoops.
That is why it's so gratifying to see the new Family Recreation Center rising at Circle & Harrison. It will feature a regulation basketball court, which can also be used for half-court games and volleyball. The park district has worked patiently on this project for seven years. They finally secured the funding from the EPA and the state to make the dream a reality.
I'm thrilled about the project but personally wish it had been ready when my kids were teens. They used to go to the River Forest Recreation Center to play ball, but that program became limited to residents. They used to play in the alley on baskets mounted on garage roofs, but those came down. They tried portable hoops, but it just wasn't the same.
The Park had outdoor basketball courts for a few years. They did their best to monitor play, but arguments, fights and general rowdiness ended that experiment. The basketball courts were replaced by the skate park, which draws a more sedate clientele. I like the skate park but was disappointed that we couldn't make the basketball courts work.
I'm hoping The Park can prevent rowdiness on the indoor courts. I used to monitor pick-up games at a school gym and it was no easy task. I had to fight a weekly battle to break up full-court games, so that the kids on the sidelines could play half-court games. I also had to break up arguments and near-fights.
Assistant Park Director Steve Thomas said they are still tweaking their plans for how to oversee open gym at the facility. They are considering issuing passes to players, or charging a daily fee. There definitely will be supervision and monitoring of the players.
My dream for Forest Park is finally coming true. We deserve a recreation facility like the towns around us. I only wish it had been finished in 1997. I could still sink 3-pointers back then
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.