2016-05-12 / Opinion


Order More Courts

There were nothing but smiles, hugs and handshakes all around that happy day last August when friends and family of Newport’s well-regarded Slom family gathered outside the Claiborne Pell Elementary School.

The occasion: A ceremony dedicating the school’s outdoor basketball court to Aaron and Rita Slom, two community leaders and sports enthusiasts with an especially deep love for basketball and, we’re certain, for young people and their need for such facilities.

Sadly, what must have seemed like a slam dunk when the school’s outdoor basketball court was dedicated last year has evolved into a problem in search of a solution—how to eradicate poor behavior among some young people who use the Pell basketball courts and surrounding areas for purposes other than basketball.

What can be done?

It troubles us that three other outdoor recreation areas have courts where basketball hoops once stood but were removed. They include the Florence Gray Center, at 1 York St., where the Boys and Girls Club organizes youth activities; the court behind the Park Holm Senior Center; and one that used to be on land within Miantonomi Park now governed by the Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT). Under a conservation easement held by ALT, a basketball court is not allowed on the land where the court was located, but the nonprofit has said it is willing to revisit the issue.

Giving our young people more places to play basketball outside could help alleviate problems at the Pell courts. The multi-court complex near the Martin Luther King Center is just not enough. Restoring these three idle courts would be a good place to start. And, we agree with those Newport city officials who have concluded that new places must be found in the city for recreation facilities such as basketball courts.

But apparently that’s not as easy as it sounds. One School Committee member told Newport This Week that his effort to address the basketball court issue took him from the Housing Authority director, to the Housing Authority Residents Council, and finally to the Housing Authority Board of Directors—all to no avail.

Meanwhile, stories are told by residents near the Pell School complaining since the school opened about “young adults” who gather at the court in the evening and engage in rowdy behavior, fighting, swearing and, ahem, activities that are better done in private. In one instance, we are told, one of these interlopers had the nerve to ask the homeowner if he could borrow a towel to dry off after using the owner’s pool without permission.

City officials have acknowledged these complaints and responded with a strategy to address the problem—a heightened police presence; using short, heavy bollards to keep motor vehicles off school property; and signage clearly specifying when the courts may be used.

These all seem like good ideas, but only time will tell.

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