When a rec center wrecks sleep

The gate around the Marian Anderson Recreation Center’s basketball court is broken. Juliana Reyes
The gate around the Marian Anderson Recreation Center’s basketball court is broken. Juliana Reyes
Posted: May 31, 2012

JONATHAN Katzenbach has a love-hate relationship with his neighborhood basketball court. Katzenbach, who lives across from the court at Marian Anderson Recreation Center in the Graduate Hospital area, says he loves having the court so close. He’s shot some hoops there in the past.

But when the sun goes down, it’s a different story. The gate to the court has been broken for months — half of the gate’s door is missing — and there are large gaps in the surrounding fence. So people enter and play at all hours.

Katzenbach says he’s been awakened numerous times at 3 or 4 a.m. from the sounds of people on the courts. Kids and adults both use the courts past midnight, he says, and it’s much more frequent in warm weather. When it happens, he calls the cops.

Katzenbach’s not the only one who has bouncing basketballs ringing in his ears. Parks and Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson, who oversees the city’s recreation centers and worked in the Police Department for 20 years, says late-night play in residential neighborhoods has been an issue for as long as she can remember.

The department tries to deal with the problem by equipping court lights with a timer so that they turn off around 10 p.m., Slawson says. If that doesn’t work, the problem falls to the police, but Slawson is quick to add that it’s also the community’s responsibility to make sure the courts are being used at proper times.

Residents who live near the basketball court at Seger Park in Washington Square West found a particularly effective way to deal with the issue. Since the light-timers weren’t making a difference, neighbors decided to go after the hoops. About six or seven years ago, the Seger Park Advisory Council and the park’s recreation leader agreed that the rims would come down when the leader closed the park at night, said April Gamache Meidt, president of the advisory council.

Regional district manager Paul Dignam, who manages recreation centers in parts of South Philly and West Philly, says there were so many complaints about late-night play that the city thought that taking down the rims would lessen the burden on police. But this approach won’t work everywhere, he says, because special removable rims are required. Dignam said he thought the advisory council raised money to purchase the rims, though we couldn’t find anyone to confirm this.

As for Katzenbach’s case, Dignam said he put in a work order to get the gate fixed. Still, he said, "it’s not foolproof." The gate could just as easily break again, or kids could climb over the fence.

WORSE THAN NOISE: Basketball, because of recent high-profile incidents, also has officials concerned about another community issue: violence. Last summer, six people were injured in a shooting during an adult basketball game at Kingsessing Recreation Center. Kingsessing’s recreation leader Steve Smith says the center has suspended adult basketball leagues for one year in order to re-evaluate.

"It’s a centerpiece to our programming," he says, "but we have to think about the kids and the neighborhood. We want people to feel safe." Smith says the center is also holding games earlier in the day, in hopes of attracting smaller crowds.

In response to incidents last summer, Slawson says there’s been a push to provide the Police Department with schedules of all the city’s basketball games. It’s up to the district commanders if they send cops to the games, says police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers.

Slawson says the city hasn’t decreased the number of summer basketball leagues. Parks and Recreation manages about 70 youth basketball leagues and also gives permits to adults to organize their own leagues. One of these adults is Kenyatta Bey, who has started the Point Breeze Youth Development Basketball League in 1988. Bey, who runs the program at Chew Playground, says the league helps to keep young people occupied in the summer months and teaches them "how to deal with one another."

With 42 teams and about 700 kids involved last summer, the games can get big — and rowdy. But Bey says he doesn’t tolerate any nonsense: "If I see something possibly brewing, I address it." He uses a PA system to keep things under control, and he’ll escort people off the court if he has to.

Can’t get answers about city services? We can help. Reach us at howl@phillynews.com, 215-854-5855 or on Twitter @phillyhowl. More columns at philly.com/cityhowl. Juliana Reyes writes for It’s Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation that works to shed light on where your tax dollars are going.

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