The program is a reboot of the Midnight Basketball leagues that were first approved by the City Council in 1994 as a way to reduce crime and keep teens and young adults out of trouble. But that program fizzled out about a decade ago.
Last year, Leonard Adams, a longtime Central Long Beach community advocate and Midnight Basketball coordinator, was asked to help resurrect the league as crime in the city was trending upward. The program was to be funded with $250,000 in pandemic recovery funds the City Council allocated to the Long Beach Police Department as part of a violence prevention package last year.
The Hoops After Dark program has many of the same elements as the national Midnight Basketball model. It uses basketball to bring together young men and women between the ages of 17 and 25, sometimes from rival gangs, and couples sports competition with job training seminars, guest speakers and networking to help lay a foundation for a better future. The summer season is projected to have six teams with 10 players each.
“We look at it as a jobs generator, training for those who want to get trained,” Adams said.
Some past participants have gone on to acting and rapping careers, and others have gone on to work for the city or were able to land other jobs with the skills they acquired through past workshops.
Adams said the guest speakers are equally valuable. Sometimes they are from the city prosecutor’s office and help participants learn about how certain offenses can be expunged from their records. Others speakers could be from Los Angeles County and have helped people sort out child support documents.
These talks happen as the program simultaneously works to bridge the gap between different ethnic groups in the city, something that has fed into gang violence between Black, Latino and Asian gangs in the city.
Cops are part of the program, Adams said, but there’s generally an agreement worked out beforehand that prohibits police officers from using the program to make arrests, which could deter people from wanting to show up.
The inaugural winter season in December was cut short due to rising cases of COVID-19 in the community and the league and Adams said they shut it down with the expectation that city pandemic relief funds would cover a spring and summer season.
Both of those start dates have passed, and Adams and others went to City Hall last week to ask for the funds to be released.
“It needs to be had for our city, if not, it’s either our youth are going to be locked up or, sad to say, dead in the streets,” said Earl McCullouch Jr., who played in the league and is now a coach and assistant coordinator.
A city memo posted this week said that the combination of a $30,000 grant from the nonprofit Partners of Parks and $64,000 from pandemic recovery money would fund a summer season that’s set to start Aug. 1. The seven-week season will be held at the Salvation Army located near the intersection of Long Beach Boulevard and Spring Street.
Meredith Reynolds, a special deputy city manager tasked with overseeing the city’s recovery funds distribution, said that the city had to ensure that the program was eligible and worked to ensure that it was distributed in a way that wouldn’t require Hoops After Dark to claim the funding as taxable income.
The relief funding also has requirements for data to be collected and progress reports to be filed, Reynolds said, all of which needed to be squared away before funding was released.
The change of venue from McBride Park, where Hoops After Dark was held in December, is due to a damaged roof that led to the indoor court’s floor being warped. Fixing the floor will cost about $30,000 and could be completed before the proposed winter season later this year.
Brent Dennis, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Marine, said playing at a non-city-owned site increased the price of this season but the remaining balance ($162,000) should allow for a winter and spring season to be funded, adding that he was pretty confident the city could fund a summer season again in 2023.
“This really does impact kids positively and I think we’ve seen the importance of this program,” Dennis said.
Adams said the program is essential not only to people who are trying to stay out of the criminal justice system but is also helpful to area athletes who come back home during college summer break who want to continue to sharpen their skills and potentially be recruited by area coaches.
It also can help temper tensions between gangs as it provides a healthy outlet for program participants to compete against one another, share meals and potentially be connected to jobs or higher education opportunities.
“The whole idea is to have the gangs cooperate,” Adams said. “Basketball seems to be common ground and they’ll meet there and play there despite ongoing issues with each other.”
Adams said the Midnight Basketball program was funded each year by two grants from Union Pacific Railroad and Boeing and when that dried up so did the program. Now they’re looking for another dependable source of revenue to keep the program going after the recovery funding runs out.
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