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Practice Makes Perfect: New Approaches to 'Hoops'

Nearly a decade ago, LISC Chicago expanded a neighborhood youth basketball program that would later become a movement: Hoops in the Hood

Hoops in the Hood, a summer basketball program in 14 Chicago neighborhoods, teaches young people about basketball, leadership, community spirit and how to have fun.

Courtesy of BUILD

Every week from June through August, 14 neighborhoods close off streets and turn out crowds for Hoops, first developed as an anti-violence strategy by The Resurrection Project in 1999. Youth ages 8 to 19 play basketball, participate in arts and other recreational activities, and enjoy a barbeque with their neighbors and families. 

Since then, the program has evolved and taken on different shapes in different neighborhoods. In Austin, for example, BUILD Chicago uses Hoops to build relationships among residents in Austin and neighboring Humboldt Park. Other neighborhoods boast unique goals and stories about the program, but they have commonalities: they’re all providing constructive, adult-supervised activities for young people that promote good health, leadership skills and community spirit. 

Here’s a snapshot of how Hoops was playing out in a few neighborhoods earlier this summer: 

AUSTIN

Not even heavy rain discouraged about 100 people from signing up in early July to compete on the 5100 block of West Harrison Street. BUILD Chicago planned and hosted this event – one of several Hoops competitions scheduled this summer for Austin and Humboldt Park. It’s BUILD’s third summer organizing the games. 

“People expect it now,” said BUILD Program Coordinator Bessie Alcantara. “At first, there was some kickback in the neighborhood, but now we have community members helping us with getting the permits and asking constantly when the next event is coming up.” 

In some neighborhoods, streets are closed off to accommodate the games. In others, kids play on courts temporarily set up in parking lots or school playgrounds.

Alcantara and her colleagues had spent most of the day preparing for the 4 p.m. event, not to mention dealing with the rain. But they all maintained a sort of infectious enthusiasm for the games.

“It’s great to see all the kids getting along without arguing or fighting,” she said. “It’s a safe place, and the competition is friendly.” 

Hoops has become so popular, said Alcantara, that kids will travel to other neighborhoods to get more opportunities to play. And that they actually practice in advance of the scheduled Hoops events to improve their chances of winning games.

In addition to the basketball games, BUILD uses the gatherings to promote wellness and health education. 

NORTH LAWNDALE

Hoops (or “B-Ball on the Block”) has been a part of the North Lawndale community for eight years. Lawndale Christian Development Corporation (LCDC), which spearheads the program, has been working in the neighborhood for nearly 30 years. For LCDC’s Larry Dixon, the most rewarding part of Hoops is how the positive repercussions extend beyond only those playing basketball. “People feel safe in their own community for an afternoon,” he said. 

A unique aspect of LCDC’s program is the relationship it establishes between community members, including local clergy, and the 10th district police, who participate in the Hoops programming. Some of the games are played in the police station parking lot. 

“We have a great game there every year,” said Dixon. “Pastor versus police, and the kids get a chance to see them in a different light. It’s a great way of bringing the community together in a completely different context than the everyday. When you walk the neighborhood, you have the kids hollering at you, ‘Hey mister, when does the b-ball start?’”

LCDC typically schedules their games in parking lots or school playgrounds throughout the neighborhood. 

BELMONT CRAGIN

This summer marks Belmont Cragin’s first year as a Hoops site, with the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) organizing and hosting the events. Surprising as it may seem for a first-timer, NSHC has made the basketball games only the tip of its community development iceberg. Through the city’s Micro-Market Recovery Program – an effort to concentrate specific city services and investments on key blocks in key neighborhoods, the Cragin Park Advisory Council and NWSHC have participated in park clean-ups and dedication ceremonies with their alderman and the mayor. 

The games also feature cook outs, health fairs, and other activities that engage the friends and families of the players.

Christy Perera

While Hoops programming may be new, NWSHC has organized similar sports-centric programs and camps for the past eight years as part of a partnership with the Northwest Community Church. These organizations have more than three decades of combined experience in the Belmont Cragin area. 

NWSHC is integrating all sides of the neighborhood into the Hoops programming. The principal of Schubert Elementary School, for example, spoke at one of the Hoops events. She told students her story and illustrated how leaders don’t quit, they simply learn from their mistakes. NWSHC also taught money management skills at one of their events. 

“This is a miracle,” said one observer, watching the proceedings. “All of this is exciting. Here’s the whole neighborhood coming together – playing basketball. Not every day do you see this.” 

All of the games in all of the neighborhoods build to a climax – the cross-city tournament at Seward Park, 375 W. Elm St., Chicago, on Saturday, August 23rd. There, teams in various age brackets will square off in Hoops’ seasonal grand finale.

LISC Chicago's Hoops in the Hood from Tu Multimedia on Vimeo.

Posted in Placemaking, Safety, North Lawndale

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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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