Hoops Sagrado Scores High With Local Youth (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Hoops Sagrado Scores High With Local Youth

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
March Madness is just around the corner so many a sport fan has basketball on the brain right about now. But in this next story, we're not focusing on college athletes vying for national championship, no, the players we're going to meet are teens and 20 something's in Adams Morgan who've come to see the basketball court as a kind of haven from the dangers of street life. As Jessica Gould tells us, these individuals have become a kind of family, rife with stories of success and devastating loss.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

00:00:37
Aniekan Udofia says the sound of a basketball bouncing is like his heart beating faster and faster as he makes his way to the court.

MR. ANIEKAN UDOFIA

00:00:44
All of a sudden, you start walking faster, your heart starts beating and you're thinking, okay, what team do I play with tonight? I want to win games.

GOULD

00:00:51
For years, a rectangle of cracked concrete at Walter Pierce Park has been the unofficial hub of the neighborhood. Udofia says it's a place where divisions from race and class to crew melt away in the heat of the game.

UDOFIA

00:01:04
It's not just a basketball court. Like, it's a community center.

GOULD

00:01:08
And Pierce Park regular, Gerard Allen, says the court is his home away from home.

MR. GERARD ALLEN

00:01:12
Like, I could talk about family issues, I could talk about females, I could talk about money. If it was a point where I couldn't go home, it's guaranteed, There's at least two or three people down there, I know I can go over their house.

GOULD

00:01:23
Neighborhood activist, Bryan Weaver, began playing pickup games at Pierce Park more than a decade ago. He came for the basketball, but he stayed because of the friendships he formed, especially with kids who are struggling to stay out of trouble.

MR. BRYAN WEAVER

00:01:37
I'd spent some time in Central America and I really sort of viewed the life that a lot of kids were living here in D.C. were very similar to the lives that a lot of young folks in Guatemala were living in. Violence had touched every household, people were sort of looking for games to be an escape from day to day lives.

GOULD

00:01:52
Weaver decided to bring a group of kids from the neighborhood to Guatemala and host a basketball camp for the locals. Clayton Mitchell was on that first trip.

MR. CLAYTON MITCHELL

00:02:01
And you see how they struggle, it makes you look back at D.C.'ers like, damn, we've taken a lot of things for granted.

GOULD

00:02:07
Since then, Weaver has brought about 150 kids to Guatemala as part of the non-profit he started called Hoops Sagrado. And over the years, the annual trips have strengthened the comradery on the court, transforming a diverse group of pickup basketball players into a family.

WEAVER

00:02:23
I look around the table and I think I see the pallbearers at my funeral. I mean, it's just that kind of friendship that I think that we've sort of established.

GOULD

00:02:30
Gerard Allen says he isn't sure where he'd be without the Hoops community.

MITCHELL

00:02:34
It's a good chance I could've been locked up. There's a greater chance I could've even more tragic than that.

GOULD

00:02:40
But not all the Pierce Park players have been so lucky. Drugs, violence, they call it the fast life and they say it's claimed several of their friends and relatives. In 2008, Clayton Mitchell lost his brother Durell (sp?) in a burst of gunfire.

MITCHELL

00:02:55
He just had one of them type of personalities, like even if he was having a bad day, he could change your whole day with just a few words. He was just that type of person.

GOULD

00:03:03
Then, in 2010, Hoops alum Jamal Coates, was gunned down on U Street. Aniekan Udofia painted a mural at the park as a tribute to Coates and the others.

UDOFIA

00:03:13
The first panel has a kid blindfolded with an hourglass, but he's wearing a graduation hat and the hourglass is broken.

GOULD

00:03:19
He says the mural represents the potential of the players and the things that stand in their way.

UDOFIA

00:03:25
They have high aspirations and you see people who are trying to help push that high aspirations but then there's something in between that, which is originally the environment they grew up in.

GOULD

00:03:37
Bryan Weaver says that combination of hope and struggle has deep roots in the neighborhood.

WEAVER

00:03:43
That court is built on a cemetery and it's a cemetery of freed slaves and of white abolitionists. And that, to me, is always sort of the sacred ground in the community.

GOULD

00:03:53
But Sam Levy who grew up playing basketball at Pierce Park says the core group of players is getting older now. And jobs and families can make it difficult to get together the way they used to. Meanwhile, he says, gentrification is changing the community and the courts.

MR. SAM LEVY

00:04:09
People should know, people that use the park now and people that are moving into the neighborhood, they just can't really understand how important playing basketball that park was for everyone that used to play basketball there because whether or not this court saved you or not, it was there for you.

GOULD

00:04:26
Udofia puts it this way...

UDOFIA

00:04:27
To this group, basketball is not just a game, it's life.

GOULD

00:04:31
And for them, the bounce of a basketball will always be the beating heart of the neighborhood. I'm Jessica Gould.

SHEIR

00:04:50
You can find more information about Hoops Sagrado and Walter Pierce Park on our website, metroconnection.org. After the break, Virginia gets into a political game over organized labor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1

00:05:06
MWAA supposedly represents the District, Maryland and Virginia. It doesn't say anything about -- that it represents the union.

SHEIR

00:05:14
Plus, the mysterious virus that's been killing animals in Montgomery County.

MR. SCOTT FARNSWORTH

00:05:19
This is a pretty brutal disease. It actually affects multiple organs within their body and actually, kills off the tissue, the exhibit a lot of gapping behavior where they're trying to draw in air.

SHEIR

00:05:30
Stay tuned for that and more on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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