Basketball Could Prevent Violence
Neighborhood youth getting ready for the start of Hoops in the Hood last June
By Jaime Ruvalcaba, 8th grader at James Hedges Elementary
Basketball programs in our community benefit the youth from different parts of our neighborhood. This year, my friends played for the St. Michael the Archangel team at the 3rd Annual Hoops in the Hood Tournament.
The basketball games were great; two well-organized teams played against each other with the sole focus of passing to the next round. All the team players got into the game and it was funny how they got mad when another team made a basket.
The St. Michael’s teammates screamed of joy and happiness when they won and still cheered even if they lost. All the moms and other youth also came out and congratulated them for the effort they put each time they played.
The St. Michael’s team practiced at the gym located on 48th and Winchester. They ran up and down the gym going over and over their plays. At the gym, team members feel safe and motivated. Father Tilford, long-time youth advocate and parish priest makes sure there are no fights or gang representations. Also, Marina Alonso, from Hedges Elementary, protects the youth as if they were her own kids.
“Everybody feels safe in the gym,” said Michael Thomas, one of the youth who often goes to the gym to play basketball.
However, when the gym closes it’s a different story. The streets outside the gym feel like you’re opening the door to a horror movie. A young boy could walk around with thousands of eyes on him feeling like at any second he could get attacked or even murdered. Youth like Thomas, in many cases, don’t know what to think. They walk as fast as they can to not get hurt and they have to always look behind them to make sure that no one is out to hurt them.
“I mean it’s crazy how unsafe it is,” said Thomas. “When you’re in the gym, everybody is cool with you. We all talk, laugh and have fun. But once the gym closes everybody goes their own way and next thing you know, you’re all by yourself. You walk away from the crowd you don’t want to be seen with. Everybody looks at you wondering what part of the neighborhood you’re from.”
Recently, the community experienced two murders in less than six months, leaving two families in pain who will never see their family members again. As a result of this unexplainable violence, the mothers from the neighborhood are not comfortable letting their kids out in the street.
According to ClearPath, a Chicago police website that gives information about community concerns, about 30 percent of community members who participate in 9th District neighborhood meetings are worried about gangs. Others are worried about narcotics, prostitution and other crimes.
Alonso believes that basketball programs like Hoops in the Hood help youth by bringing them all together. Youth come from other parts of the neighborhood without worrying about gang boundaries.
“The youth simply enjoy the basketball games. No one is hurting each other or worrying about any kind of violence,” said Alonso during an interview towards the end of the Hoops in the Hood tournament.
For many youth the tournament is not even about winning the game. It’s about having fun and not worrying about anything happening around in their neighborhood.
It has been proven that neighborhood programs like Hoops in the Hood, encourage the youth to stay away from drugs. Although it brings many benefits to the community, some youth in the neighborhood believe that the tournament should be more inclusive by getting rid of the age limit, which currently only allows youth between the ages of 11 to 14. Older youth have expressed that they feel somewhat excluded.
“I believe engaging in programs like Hoops in the Hood or even having a place like the St. Michael’s Gym to freely play basketball can change the lives of many youth of all ages in our area,” Thomas said. “All we can do is strive for hope in the ‘hood because good things take time but we can make it happen.”