City, community program aims to keep youth from violence

Late-night basketball games to run nightly in city

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell takes a shot at the hoop after a press conference announcing that a late-night basketball program is running for six weeks and is focused on providing positive alternative programming for teens and young adults.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell takes a shot at the hoop after a press conference announcing that a late-night basketball program is running for six weeks and is focused on providing positive alternative programming for teens and young adults.

Hop­ing to trade gang ac­tiv­ity for lay­ups and jump shots, of­fi­cials from the city of Toledo and a host of com­mu­nity cen­ters have an­nounced a late-night bas­ket­ball pro­gram they be­lieve can help re­duce crime among the city’s youth.

“It’s about do­ing some­thing pos­i­tive with young peo­ple in our com­mu­nity,” said Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who spoke Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in the gym­na­sium at the East Toledo Fam­ily Center dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, hold­ing a bas­ket­ball at his side.

The pro­gram has al­ready be­gun, run­ning seven nights a week at ro­tat­ing sites through­out the city: The East Toledo Fam­ily Center, 1020 Var­land Ave.; the Zablocki Se­nior Center, 3015 La­grange St.; the Be­lieve Center, 1 Aurora Gon­za­lez Dr.; and the Fred­er­ick Douglass Community As­so­ci­a­tion, 1001 In­di­ana Ave.

Off-duty po­lice of­fi­cers at­tend games, and pa­trol units are pres­ent as ses­sions end, said Jan Scot­land, pres­i­dent of Toledo Com­mu­nity Recre­ation. Mr. Scot­land said some sites have drawn as many as 100 youths be­tween play­ers and spec­ta­tors.

Games are geared to­ward play­ers ages 18 to 24 and run from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., which can be peak hours for youth crime, Mr. Scot­land said.

Sev­eral of the city’s most re­cent ho­mi­cide vic­tims have been young men in this age group, in­clud­ing De­on­tae Al­len, 19, who was shot and killed Oct. 18, and Jon­a­than Mor­ris, 22, who was also killed last month.

Such pro­grams have mixed re­sults, said Mor­ris Jen­kins, chair­man of the Univer­sity of Toledo’s de­part­ment of crim­i­nal justice and so­cial work. "On the pos­i­tive side, it does cre­ate ac­tiv­i­ties for young peo­ple,” he said.

“On the neg­a­tive side, what about the kids that don’t want to par­tic­i­pate in sports?”

Such pro­grams are “a good first step,” Mr. Jen­kins be­lieves, but if fund­ing per­mits, of­fi­cials should con­sider ex­pand­ing it be­yond ath­let­ics, he said.

Sim­i­lar pro­grams have been im­ple­mented in many other cit­ies. The idea be­gan in Prince George’s County, Mary­land, in the late 1980s and rose to na­tional prom­i­nence in 1989 when the Chi­cago Hous­ing Au­thor­ity and the U.S. Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment or­ga­nized late-night leagues, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of such pro­grams pub­lished in 2006 in the Jour­nal of Sport and So­cial Is­sues.

The pro­grams came un­der fire from con­ser­va­tive crit­ics in the 1990s “as sym­bolic of the short­com­ings of lib­eral ap­proaches to crime pre­ven­tion,” the study noted.

In Toledo, late-night bas­ket­ball was of­fered for about two years, start­ing in 2001, at The Hoop Bas­ket­ball & Fit­ness Fa­cil­ity on Man­hat­tan Bou­le­vard. It was built on city prop­erty in North Toledo and aimed to pro­vide rec­re­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties for city youth. The pro­gram ended when the fa­cil­ity closed.

Such bas­ket­ball pro­grams have been pop­u­lar in part be­cause they are in­ex­pen­sive to set up, the study noted. The anal­y­sis found some as­so­ci­a­tion in cit­ies with such pro­grams with de­creased prop­erty crime, but said fur­ther re­search was needed.

Douglas Hart­mann, a so­ciol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Min­ne­sota and the pa­per’s pri­mary au­thor, said such bas­ket­ball leagues’ crime-pre­ven­tion goals can be un­re­al­is­tic.

When pro­grams are suc­cess­ful, they are part of a broader pack­age of crime pre­ven­tion ef­forts and pro­grams, and they must con­nect par­tic­i­pants to other re­sources, said Mr. Hart­mann, who is writ­ing a book ti­tled, Mid­night Bas­ket­ball: Race, Risk and the Ironies of Sports-Based Crime Preven­tion.

Lo­cally, the pro­gram has enough funds to con­tinue for a year, though bas­ket­ball won'’t run year-round. It will be re­placed by var­i­ous sea­son­ally ap­pro­pri­ate sports and other non-sports ac­tiv­i­ties, said Jen Sor­gen­frei, spokes­man for Mayor Bell. The $60,000 in city funds will cover costs such as sti­pends for site su­per­vi­sors and the off-duty of­fi­cers at the games, she said.

Sgt. Joe Hef­fer­nan, the Toledo Po­lice Depart­ment’s pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, said the pro­gram has the added ben­e­fit of help­ing to break down geo­graphic bar­ri­ers and neg­a­tive feel­ings that can ex­ist be­tween youths from dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hoods.

“The num­bers [of par­tic­i­pants] have been fan­tas­tic,” said Sonya Harper-Wil­liams, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Fred­er­ick Douglass Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, which hosts games two nights each week. She said the games are also a way for her or­ga­ni­za­tion to reach youths and let them know what other as­sis­tance pro­grams are avail­able from her or­ga­ni­za­tion. “If they’re with us, they’re safe and they’re not on the street.”

Games run from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the East Toledo Fam­ily Center Mon­days and Wed­nes­days, the Zablocki Se­nior Center on Tues­days, The Be­lieve Center on Thurs­days and Sun­days, and the Fred­er­ick Douglass Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion on Fri­days and Satur­days.

For more in­for­ma­tion, call Jim Gramza at the Zablocki Center at 419-356-1077.

Con­tact Kate Giam­marise at: kgiam­marise@the­ or 419-724-6091, or on Twit­ter @KateGiam­marise.