On a recent Sunday afternoon Forest Park resident D.L. Coleman and his wife Tanya were sitting under a shade tree in the park with their toddler. The young child was holding a basketball. He was too small to do much more than hold the ball, but even if he were older he had few options for shooting hoops.
A few years ago the Park District closed its outdoor basketball courts and opened a skateboard park last summer in their place. The only public outdoor basketball hoops in town are located in the small asphalt playground at the Community Center, and those are only open to children participating in Community Center daycare or after school programs, according to Director Beverly Thompson.
Coleman would like to see a basketball court in the park.
“You got soccer, you got tennis, you got baseball, you know. Why not have basketball or football,” Coleman said.
His wife agrees, but is a little ambivalent noting that basketball courts will likely draw lots of teens and young adults who might spoil quiet afternoons for young families.
Last month at a village council meeting, Commissioner Rory Hoskins broached the subject of providing new recreational outlets for kids in Forest Park and suggested using the Community Center for a supervised basketball program. Hoskins said later that the small asphalt surface is in need of repaving and is not an ideal solution.
“I think something is better than nothing,” Hoskins said. “I see it as a risk management issue. There are times you can drive down Beloit and you’ll see six to nine young boys, maybe one or two will have a basketball, but where is there to play basketball? There is obviously a demand.”
Mayor Anthony Calderone is attempting to organize a collaborative solution with the schools, parks and village. The discussion will be about providing recreational opportunities for children, but Calderone said he’s skeptical this responsibility rests with the council.
“I don’t believe it is the village’s responsibility to be a babysitter,” Calderone said. “Certainly it is possible that there is a void that needs to be filled, but there are a lot of other problems that need to be addressed. I think this issue is about providing recreational outlets for children during non school hours and I think all three entities have a role to play in that. I am going to be writing to the park board and the school board asking for a joint meeting.”
Park District Executive Director Larry Piekarz said he welcomes the discussion.
Outdoor basketball courts have been disappearing from many communities in recent years, not just in Forest Park. Since closing its outdoor courts at Keystone Park in River Forest, the park district has portable hoops used only for “program activities” such as day camp, said River Forest Park District Executive Director Mike Sletten. In Oak Park, there are eight outdoor half-court facilities, according to that community’s park district.
Last month the Chicago Reporter, a bimonthly news magazine that focuses on issues of race and poverty, found that in Chicago the number of public schools with outdoor basketball hoops has dropped by almost 25 percent since 1996. Two of the reasons cited for removing hoops were that they “attracted older teens who drank, sold drugs, or caused trouble” and that “hoops attracted gang activity.”
The courts at the park here in the village were plagued with bad language, fights and drinking, Piekarz said. The park’s five year plan allows for the possibility of putting in new basketball courts in the west end of the park and Hoskins said he sees no reason why a skate park and basketball court should be mutually exclusive.
“I just think that a village of our size can have both,” Hoskins said. “It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”
The Park District does run an indoor basketball league for boys in grades two through eight from Nov. 6 to Feb. 9 two nights a week and on Saturdays.