Friday, 21 August 2009

Nice Story about inner-city hoops in Calgary

Hoops draw community together

By Graeme Morton, Calgary Herald

On a warm Monday evening in mid-August, a church parking lot is usually an empty place.

But on the asphalt at Deer Park United Church, 77 Deerpoint Rd. S. E., the nearby hum of traffic is drowned out by the steady thump of basketballs hitting pavement and young voices calling out to other players.

Rev. Tom Melvin watches the junior Kobe Bryants put up their best shots and knows this is something his church should be involved in.

"This is not about trying to convert these kids to a particular religious belief," says Melvin. "This is about a church working to build partnerships and getting to know our neighbours."

Melvin notes that the youthful participants come from a number of faiths and cultures and no attempt is made to tie the basketball program to evangelizing.

"We live in an increasingly diverse city, and if a byproduct of playing basketball with other kids is to create a more tolerant society, that's a bonus," says Melvin.

In recent years, the church has joined forces with the City of Calgary's Community and Neighbourhood Services and Aspen Family and Community Network Society to offer Sonics, a weekly drop-in hoops program for young people in Deer Ridge, Deer Run and Queensland. In good weather, the kids gather in the United Church parking lot, moving to a neighbourhood school gym for the winter. Similar Sonics programs are offered free of charge to teens in other quadrants of the city.

Zorian Klymochko, a recreation program specialist for community and neighbourhood services in the city's south end, says Sonics is all about offering positive recreation to young people.

"These kids have really taken ownership of this program. We had a couple of earlier basketball nets in the church parking lot destroyed by vandalism and these kids, with some support, applied to the Calgary Foundation for funding for an 'indestructible' hoop," says Klymochko. Dads of participants and area residents turned out to pour a sturdy concrete base for the new hoop, which shares the church grounds' skyline with a towering, white cross.

Klymochko says he promotes Deer Park Sonics to potential players through community newsletters, posters, gym teachers and principals, social workers, police officers and area churches.

"This (church parking lot) is a perfect spot for the kids to play ball. It's safe and they're not going to bother any neighbours," he adds.

Melvin says vandalism and graffiti on church property has virtually disappeared since Sonics began.

"The kids feel like this is their 'turf', they respect it," Melvin says.

"We in the church should be doing more of this work. We worry too much about what it may cost or what's the potential liability. We do too much navel gazing and not enough outreach to our neighbours."

City recreation staffer Doug Morrison has been trading jump shots with the same core group of kids at Deer Park Sonics for three years.

"These boys are extremely welcoming of new kids. It's not like work at all for me. I show up every week and it's like a night of playing basketball with a bunch of buddies," says Morrison.

"We've got some really talented players here, but it's not about being a star. The top players help out the other kids. It's been very satisfying to watch them develop, both as players and as young men."

More information on getting involved in the Sonics program anywhere in the city is available by calling 311.

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