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City employee says basketball draws crowd 'not worthy' of new park

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Plans for North Toledo’s Joe E. Brown Park call for new baseball fields, tennis courts, and an inline skating rink, but no basketball courts.

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Workers landscape the ball field and erect the backstop at the Joe E. Brown Park in 2017, as part of the restoration after the completion of the storage facility underground. There will be new baseball fields, tennis courts, and an inline skating rink, but no basketball courts.

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Why not basketball? According to one city employee working on the Toledo Waterways Initiative, it’s because of the “crowd” the sport attracts.

“Basketball is considered to be a sport that draws the — I don’t know how to say it — but draws a crowd that’s not worthy of the park,” Joe Franckhauser said.

His comments were part of a discussion about forming an advisory board for the park, which is in the process of being restored after it was torn up in 2014 to install an underground sewage storage basin. The work is part of 25 Toledo Waterways Initiative projects meant to reduce Toledo’s sewage overflows into local rivers.

Many city council members took issue with Mr. Franckhauser’s statement, including Yvonne Harper, who represents the district where the park is located.

“When I heard that statement — I’m sure you didn’t mean it — but you’re looking at an individual that grew up out in that area, and there were certain areas that I was not allowed to be in,” she said. “We need to recognize that this is a new day and age, and I will not sit here as a council woman of District 4 and the children have to go through what I did as a child.”

Councilman Larry Sykes cautioned against labeling any youth as “undesirable” or “rowdy” simply because of what type of recreation they prefer.

“In the future I would encourage each and every one of us to not pigeonhole our children to just play soccer, football, or basketball because any type of sport, any type of activity will take our children off the streets and get them involved,” Mr. Sykes said. “I’m just a little disappointed with that comment, but I’m sure you didn’t really mean that.”

The resolution city council was discussing was simply to create a board to work with city staff when it comes to making decisions that would impact the park, not the specifics of what the park will offer.

Council President Matt Cherry said the recreational features at the location were previously approved by city council, and they did not include plans for basketball courts. There also was no basketball court before the sewer work.

In a statement, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said Mr. Franckhauser’s comment does not reflect his views or the views of his administration. He also said there is room to discuss the desire for basketball courts at the park.

“I believe a city employee made a comment he heard at some point years before I was mayor about this park project and basketball courts. Public spaces like parks are to be enjoyed by all members of the community,” the mayor’s statement said. “Whether he was articulating his own opinion or attempting to summarize the opinions of others, he does not have the power to set policy of the administration. That power lies with the mayor and city council, along with the consultation of senior staff. Joe E. Brown Park is in the heart of a vibrant neighborhood.”

Mr. Franckhauser declined to elaborate on his comments after the meeting and referred further questions to Julie Cousino, program administrator for Toledo Waterways Initiative.

Council member Nick Komives said he would understand not building a basketball court if it was cost-prohibitive or if there wasn’t enough space at the park, but to say a sport should be excluded because of the people who play it is “inappropriate and troublesome.”

“I think that we should all be very careful in the language that we’re using around our describing what’s going into a park,” he said. “I’m dumbfounded right now.”

He added that he supports an advisory board for Joe E. Brown Park, but he worries about its makeup.

“If the attitude of this board is that kids are going to be one way because they are interested in one sport, then we need to make sure that everybody feels welcome in a public space,” he said. “If the attitude is going to shut some people out, then that’s a concern for me moving forward.”

City council will vote on whether to establish the board at its next meeting March 13.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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