Near West Side Celebrates Eighth Consecutive Safe Summer Basketball Season
Near West Summer league connects 350 youth to safe and healthy summer alternatives
After weeks of competition among 350 young and talented basketball players, just eight teams made it to the West Haven Safe Summer Basketball League Championships hosted at the Chicago United Center. Last Thursday, 80 young athletes took center court to celebrate this leagues eighth consecutive violence free summer and to compete for the first place championship title.
Founded in 2007 by the Near West Side Community Development Corporation (NWSCDC), the Safe Summer Basketball League has provided an enduring environment of safe and healthy alternatives to youth searching to escape the summer violence that so frequently plagues their communities.
“We are creating an oasis of peace in the middle of violence that far too often – especially in recent history – takes center stage and overshadows the bright and young talent that this League helps to elevate,” said Earnest Gates, Executive Director of the NWSCDC and longtime West Haven resident. “We have a zero tolerance policy for violence or fighting. We have fun, and we engage everyone in the community with hundreds of supporters showing up at each and every game to cheer on our talented players.”
This summer 34 basketball teams from across Chicago and the surrounding suburbs faced-off over a five-week period playing a collective 52 games in the lead up to the championship finals. With four divisions (grammar school, high school, women’s and men’s) a range of players from communities who often struggle with violence came together in this healthy and positive space.
“This tournament represents communities from all over,” said Tony Bennet, a player who has returned every year to compete since the leagues inception. “This is a place you can come compete and be completely natural. It’s from the streets and for the streets. I’ve been playing since the beginning, and playing at the United Center is an incredible experience unlike anything else.”
The league consisted of 350 players ranging in age from 10 – 35, and new this year was a women’s league that connected dozens of young female athletes to the game. Players attended daily practices, ran drills, developed team building strategies and received mentorship focused on developing skills that translate into success beyond the court.
“This year’s young and inspiring athletes are making positive choices and setting an example for their peers,” said Gates. “The Near West Side CDC provides this safe and competitive space so youth can genuinely explore their passion, learn from each other and have fun without fearing for their safety. In a city and country facing mounting levels of violence and hate, NWSCDC is proud to be setting an example of peace in our 8th consecutive violence free summer.”
The basketball league is part of the West Haven Sports Clubs, which uses sports to mentor young men and women every summer. The Clubs were founded in 2008 as a part of NWSCDC’s implementation of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s (LISC Chicago) New Communities Program. Other yearlong programs include dance, music, baseball, softball, boxing, archery, math and science, training for referee certification and the Young Entrepreneur Program, which teaches business management. All programs include mentoring sessions with peer discussions and opportunities for individual-based mentoring. Annually, the West Haven Sports Club serves more than 400 youth.
Near West Side CDC
The Near West Side CDC was established in 1988 to reinvigorate the West Haven community. For more than 20 years, the organization has actively developed affordable housing, organized and provided supportive services to low and moderate income residents. Near West Side CDC, with the help of sponsors and funders – LISC Chicago, Baseball Tomorrow Fund, White Sox/McCormack Foundation, Chicago Bulls and After School Matters – is helping local residents revitalize their communities by stressing the important of self-sustainability, public safety and health.
LISC Chicago is dedicated to helping community residents transform distressed neighborhoods into healthy and sustainable communities of choice and opportunity — good places to work, do business and raise children. In collaboration with local community development groups, LISC staff help identify priorities and challenges, delivering the most appropriate support to meet local needs.