Spoon's Summer Basketball League in Full Swing
Erie's recent gun crimes, many committed by juveniles, has sparked a surge of ideas on ways to lower violence from local leaders.
But one long-time program in Erie is all about basketball - Spoon's Summer Basketball League, something started by Erie City Councilman Mel Witherspoon, 25 years ago.
It's become a huge program with about 300 kids participating, giving them an opportunity to have fun off the streets.
Most nights in July and some of August, passerby will find dozens of kids playing ball on the courts at E. 19th Street, between French and Holland.
"If I wasn't here, I'd probably be at home playing a game right now. But with a lot of other kids, they might do something bad, and this keeps them off the streets," said Alonzo Holman, 13. It's his third year playing with the league.
The program is totally free and has teams with kids divided by age groups ranging from 9 to 16.
"Kids flock out. We have 200, 300 kids every summer," said Scooby Page, a volunteer and coach who was one of the first members to join the league 25 years ago.
It's a program that gives them a chance to play some serious ball, but it's also about keeping them busy.
"I think basketball is a great vehicle to reach young people. It just give kids another outlet, I think kids need something to do," said Ron Pacley, another volunteer coach. Pacley got involved with the league after his son joined about 10 years ago.
One very important part of the league: either before or after the games, teams are gathered together for a mandatory workshop to talk about issues like conflict resolution and violence, bringing those topics to the forefront. It teaches skills that might get missed in the classroom.
"We have a slogan called, "no workshop, no jump shot," Page said. "We've been talking about the violence that's been going on. Kids know what's going on, they feel it, they know what's happening, and we try to direct them away from it," he said. Page also visits schools, leading prevention programs through a company called Preferred Systems.
At least some of the kids do think the workshops are helpful.
"It gets people talking about everything. About the shootings that's been going on or the fights," Holman said. "I don't know why that's been happening, but I hope it stops because I want to live, I don't want to die," he said.
A little basketball, aiming high, and bringing a lot of fun for a big crowd all in a safe environment - on the courts, and off the streets.