Midnight Basketball: Not just a game, but an opportunity for personal growth and community development

Travon Martin, 24, took off his white singlet and used it to wipe sweat from his face and neck. His basketball team, the Atlanta Allstars, beat Team SW4TS by more than 30 points on the hardwood at the CT Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center.

Martin, a sophomore electrician apprentice, scored eight points, had a handful of assists and grabbed a few rebounds in his first game in Atlanta’s Midnight Basketball summer league. The SW4TS (pronounced “Swats” and references to Southwest Atlanta and Atlanta Police Zone 4) just wasn’t up to the Allstars’ fast breaks and some flashy slam dunks.

“It was the first time we played together as a team and tested our strengths,” he said. “It was fun. I’m drawn to competition.”

Mayor Andre Dickens relaunched the Midnight Basketball League this year in response to the city‘s rising crime rate. Homicides are up 15% from a year ago, according to data from the ODA website. Aggravated assaults have increased by 5% since last year, burglaries and break and enters have increased by 21%.

City officials say ODA data shows men in their late teens and early to mid-twenties are most likely to join gangs. While crime peaks late at night and early in the morning, Atlanta’s Midnight Basketball League starts at 7 p.m. and ends at 11 p.m. Raising awareness among young men, even if it’s before midnight, is one way to try to prevent crime, according to the city.

Martin praised the city and the league’s mission.

“Midnight Basketball is great because it brings together a lot of guys, older and younger than me, and we’re on the court and we’re out of trouble,” Martin said. “It’s a good way to release the tension for whatever is going on. It’s like a stress relief for me. I put everything on the ground. »

There are 200 young men playing on 20 teams in the summer Midnight Basketball League which runs weekly through August. Games are played Mondays and Wednesdays at the Rosel Fann Recreation Center in South Atlanta and the CT Martin Center on the Westside.

That’s double the numbers from the inaugural league held this spring. And dozens of other young men want to play, said Ramondo Davidson, executive director of recreation. Some have criminal histories, which makes it difficult for them to find a job, for example. But they all deserve another shot, he said, and Midnight Basketball can provide that.

“For a lot of these young men, they don’t feel like they have options or outlets and that’s why they commit crimes,” Davidson said. “They don’t feel like they can get a job if they don’t have a high school diploma or college education. But that’s just not true.

An Amazon representative at a recent game was recruiting. The city’s WorkSource program distributed job information. Free haircuts were available. Hot dogs were also free for players. A salesperson talked people into getting their GED. The cost of running the program is around $7,000 per week.

“It’s not just about basketball. Basketball is what gets them into the building and into space,” Davidson said. “When they step into that space, that’s when they have access to all these other opportunities.

“We believe that if you make a mistake, you pay for your mistake and then move forward in a more positive way,” he added. “And that’s what this league is trying to establish, that’s why we have all the wraparound extra services.”

It’s really too early to tell whether or not crime is going down because of Midnight Basketball. Davidson said police calls around the CT Martin Recreation Center dropped while spring league was underway.

The CT Martin Center is in Atlanta Police Zone 1, which includes Ashview Heights, Atlanta University Center, Collier Heights, Hunter Hills, Vine City, Washington Park, and West Lake. ODA data indicates that flights at the end of June 18, a week after the Midnight Basketball League’s spring championship game, were down 9% in Zone 1 from a year ago. Overall, however, crimes against persons and property increased by 22% in the area.

Dozens of midnight basketball leagues exist across the country today. But the evidence that the leagues help deter crime is mixed, said Volkan Topalli, a criminal justice professor at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

“It’s one of those programs that seems to make good sense, but actually doesn’t have much of an effect,” he said. “The problem is that the program only really attracts kids who want to play basketball at midnight. And so you select yourself a population of individuals who are probably not troublemakers to begin with.

One of the best things a program like Midnight Basketball does is bring people together to help create a community where people know and care about each other, Topalli said.

“It has value in the sense that it can produce, you know, community effectiveness, for example,” he said. “So if it brings communities together, you get young people playing on the basketball courts, you get people from the neighborhood to come and watch – it kind of strengthens neighborhood bonds and creates a kind of social atmosphere that can have long-term … effects on crime reduction.

In an interview, Mayor Dickens said Midnight Basketball is a tool to teach young men how to resolve conflict without violence. And he emphasizes its importance in building community. These are key steps to ending the violence, he said.

“It’s about crime prevention and avoidance,” he said.

Rather than seeing someone as an adversary, young men can learn to see others as friendly competition on the court and never get into a violent altercation, he said.

“It’s about training here while they play the game and others watch,” he said.

“They learn to compete without conflict, and they also see their families and community come together and see each other in a nice environment,” he said. “It’s about creating community, but also about providing opportunity.”

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