Kids who want to play basketball outdoors have at least one place where they can do so in Forest Park this summer. On Wednesday nights the Forest Park Youth Commission is teaming up with the Forest Park Police Department to turn the middle school playground into a basketball court.
Portable basketball hoops are set up on the playground on Wednesday evenings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. With a waiver signed by a parent, kids 15 and under are welcome.
“These kids just so want to play basketball and there is no place to play basketball,” Mary Win Connor, the chairperson of the youth commission, said.
As the weather has warmed and children have ventured outdoors in search of a game, police have been forced to break up makeshift basketball courts in alleyways, according to Chief Jim Ryan. The clusters of children disrupt traffic and generally cause a nuisance, he said.
“The complaints we were receiving was that they were causing damage to garage doors and parked cars,” Ryan said. “We’re just informing them that they’re not allowed to play basketball in the alleys.”
The basketball program run with the youth commission has been around for a few years already and is not borne directly out of the effort to keep kids from playing in the alleys.
Since the basketball courts were torn down from the Park District on Harrison Street several years ago to make way for a skateboard park, there have been no public outdoor basketball courts in Forest Park. The courts were eliminated after problems with unruly behavior and foul language become too much for organizers to bear. The village’s youth commission is attempting to eliminate those kinds of problems by limiting Wednesday night participants to kids 15 and under.
“The idea is if they can drive up they can’t play,” Win Connor said. “This is for the kids in town who are looking for a place in town where they can play.”
The program is funded with money from a county grant and at least one off-duty police officer and one or two other adults are there to supervise. There are no organized teams or leagues.
“They can play safely,” Win Connor said.
There is a concern that if older teenagers are allowed to play at the middle school they would dominate the playground. They could also attract gangs and older teens from other communities, said Win Connor.
Last year, village Commissioner Rory Hoskins called for more opportunities for kids and teenagers to play basketball in Forest Park. He called the youth commission program a good step, but said it is less than ideal.
“I’m just glad that they are doing something,” Hoskins said.
The commissioner is optimistic that if plans to construct a YMCA come to fruition, Forest Park residents will have access to their gym.
Last fall when Hoskins made his plea to give kids more opportunities to play basketball, Mayor Anthony Calderone said he would call for a meeting between the village council, the park board, and school board to look at options. To date, no such meeting has taken place.
“I have not just got to that point yet,” Calderone said.
For kids who want a more structured program to improve their basketball skills, the Howard Mohr Community Center is offering a basketball camp on Tuesday and Thursday nights in July from 6:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. for kids age 8 to 14. The camp will start July 8 and the cost is $24. Kids will receive instruction in the fundamentals of the game, according to Beverly Thompson, the director of the Community Center.
The joint program operated by the youth commission and police department will, for the first time, feature volleyball, according to Win Connor. The nets have been ordered but as of June 30 had not arrived.