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At the Hoops Cross-City Finals, Everyone’s a Winner

By: Gordon Walek
Published: August 26, 2016

Photos by Gordon Walek

Mother Nature threw the Hoops in the Hood Cross-City basketball tournament a curve this year, unleashing torrential rain on the courts at Seward Park, where teams from 14 Chicago neighborhoods were scheduled to compete on August 20.

But tournament organizers, including LISC Chicago and Beyond the Ball, anticipated the pitch and, thanks to Quest saving the day, the tournmaent was held at the excellent indoor courts at Quest Multisport in the 2600 block of West Harrison Street. Soooooooo NBA. No rain, no blinding sunshine, no gusty winds, no searing heat (ah, the miracle of air conditioning). Just pure end-to-end basketball for some enthusiastic kids in three age groups – 15-19, 11-14 and 8-10 – all of whom had been playing in Hoops programs in their neighborhoods throughout the summer. The Finals are where they meet to see which neighborhood will be crowned champion for the year.

For the past 10 summers, community organizations across Chicago have united – through Hoops in the Hood – to empower residents to reclaim their streets and promote peace. Each year, hundreds of young athletes play in the summer-long leagues that blend street basketball with other recreational activities designed to develop youth leadership skills and teamwork while fostering civic engagement and community building.

More than 16,000 Chicago youth have participated. The Hoops in the Hood program is about much more than basketball, though. It provides a fun and safe environment for young people and enables athletes, parents, and community members to literally take back the streets and spend time together outside in their neighborhoods. Week-by-week, block-by-block, Hoops has replaced neighborhood crime hotspots with safety zones. And, for a decade, the cross-city tournaments have brought together city officials, business leaders, athletes and their families from across the city to cheer on youth as they compete for the citywide championship title.

“Hoops is about getting the parents out, about people getting engaged with the neighborhood,” said Sabrina Oliphant-King, a Chicago police officer who’s worked with the program in the Back of the Yards neighborhood for the last several years. And it’s an opportunity, she said, for young people to interact with police officers in non-confrontational circumstances. Often, before the official games begin, cops will scrimmage with the kids.

“They get a kick out of it,” she said. The kids and the cops.

Many of the Hoops organizers – from Alvaro Obregon, who originated the concept in Pilsen, to Rob Castaneda, who runs the Little Village-based Beyond the Ball and has organized the Cross-City finals for years, to Keri Blackwell, the former LISC Chicago program officer who was instrumental in expanding Hoops to 14 city neighborhoods – have had the satisfaction of watching youngsters progress through all three Hoops age groups. Ditto for the referees, the coaches and the many other volunteers who for the last 10 years have put their hearts and souls into a gritty and aspirational program that is, in its special way, making some neighborhoods, and the people who inhabit them, better and stronger. They were all there on Saturday, August 20, saying goodbye to the 19-year-olds and ushering in a whole new crop of youngsters.

“Hoops in the Hood would not be possible without the support of the Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Park District, the Aldermen, the City and State Farm – the partnership and commitment to community organizations addressing youth engagement and violence prevention is invaluable,” said Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “We are proud of the impact Hoops in the Hood has made over the last decade. The program’s capacity has grown immensely and the cross-city finals was a true celebration for all of our partners.”

While Hoops isn’t technically about winning (it’s about how you play the game, sportsmanship and leadership) it should be noted that players from the Near North neighborhood won the 15-19 age group tourney. West Haven won the 11-14 age group, and North Lawndale won the 8-10. A good time was had by all.

Congrats and thank you to all of our neighborhoods and community partners who participated in Hoops: Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (Back of the Yards); Beyond the Ball (Little Village); Breakthrough Urban Ministries (East Garfield Park); Build, Inc. (Austin and Humboldt Park); Chicago Men in Action (Near North); Claretian Associates (South Chicago); Near West Side CDC (West Haven); Northwest Side Housing Center (Belmont-Cragin); Saint Anthony Hospital Foundation (North Lawndale); Southwest Organizing Project (Chicago Lawn); Teamwork Englewood (Englewood); The Community Builders (Quad Communities); and, The Resurrection Project (Pilsen). 

Posted in Areas of Work, Neighborhoods

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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