A midnight league drew 228 different basketball players to the East Toledo Family Center over a six-week period.
One evening drew 61 players, mostly young adults between the ages of 18 to 24, who hit the Family Center court two nights per week from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Program coordinator Jan Scotland said with spectators, at times there were up to 100 people present in the gym.
These are the hours that the city sees the greatest incidence of youth crime and violence. The program employs off duty officers for safety assurance and also employs site coordinators to run the programs.
Just over half, 131, showed up once with the other 97 appearing multiple times — some almost every night. They were asked to register so that numbers could be tracked.
The city provided $60,000 to Toledo Community Recreation Program for the late night basketball and other sports programs. Late night basketball was offered in three other locations around the city: the Chester Zablocki Center, Frederick Douglas Community Association, and Believe Center.
“This is about providing something positive for young people so they have an alternative to crime and gangs,” said Mayor Mike Bell “It helps them develop socially so when they meet kids from other social group, other schools, other neighborhoods, they get to know them instead of automatically writing them off because they’re from a different part of town.”
Scotland said, “The mayor, who understands the importance of athletics, bought into the idea. So that’s when we came up with the concept. It took a long time to put it together, but we finally got the funding from the city to do this and do other things that will address keeping youth from getting in trouble in the first place.”
On any given weekday night, one could find late night basketball at one of the four sites. At the Family Center, it was Monday and Wednesday nights.
Dennis Springs, the Family Center’s Help Me Grow supervisor, oversaw the basketball in East Toledo. Accompanying him were off-duty patrol officers, plus on-duty police arrived when it was time to shut down.
The large gatherings meant that each 5-on-5 game lasted until either a 12-minute running clock expired or a team reached 11 points, whichever came first. The winning team could stay on the court to take on new challengers.
Family Center assistant director Roger Dodsworth and Springs said the players made a commitment to keep the fun clean.
“They said to Dennis, ‘We don’t want to have any trouble. We’ve got something good going here and we don’t want to mess it up,’ and they behaved,” Dodsworth said. “That was a pretty interesting study in that everybody was able to maintain and get along with each other.”
Springs added, “We had one participant who walked from Airport Highway to the Family Center every Monday and Wednesday to come play. I guess the first night we had a little argument and he ran up top to stop the argument and told everybody, ‘You guys aren’t going to mess this up for the rest of us with this thing we’ve got going.’ The whole six weeks we didn’t have any problems — not one problem.”
Springs said occasionally, there was ‘discussion’ over the validity of a foul.
“They always looked at me when they called fouls, and I just said, ‘I’m just the scorekeeper,’” Springs said. “If there was a long drawn out argument about a foul, they know that the clock was still ticking. They resolved it pretty quickly.”
Springs, who played for Coach Earl Morris at Scott, collegiately at Ferris State, and six years of professional ball in Sweden, Mexico and Germany, saw some old faces.
“I saw a couple guys that I haven’t seen since high school and a couple actually played with me in high school. On top of that, in and out throughout the six-week period we had guys who played high school basketball in the area, primarily at Waite High School, and a couple guys from other high schools who came in,” Springs said. “There was one guy who played (for Waite) last year. He could jump out of the gym.”
Springs hopes it returns, and soon. He would have joined in if a team needed a player, but it wasn’t necessary.
“It went great. I thought it was a huge success,” Springs said. “I’ve been around basketball a long time so I really enjoyed just sitting there watching people play. I wish it was there when I was younger. I never got a chance to play (midnight basketball this year) because we had so many people in our building.
“I’ve heard from a couple people that they are considering bringing it back. It’s a very good thing considering the amount of crime on the east side and how many people we took off the street during those hours — that’s something to think about.”