It’s a warm Saturday. There are no classes today, but the atmosphere around the playground at Buena Vista / Horace Mann School is electric – a cacophony of bouncing basketballs, hi-five slaps, and excited voices. I’m sitting among a group of 4th and 5th grade boys, listening in as Coach Wayne delivers his prompt: “So,” he begins, “Why do we like playing basketball?”
Between bites of chewy bars, the answers come rapid-fire: “We play to have fun,” says one boy. “To be active,” chimes another. “To get outside,” says a third. “Because we can’t just play video games all day.”
The scene here at BV/HM is typical of Playworks events such as this one, San Francisco’s second annual city-wide Boy’s Basketball Extravaganza, where students from more than 20 schools have come to practice their skills, meet new friends, and get excited about their upcoming season. “You’ve got to practice to get good technique,” explains Andrew, a student from Jefferson Elementary, who’s waiting in line to play a shooting game. “And this really gets your adrenaline going!”
Still, today is about much more than basketball. “It’s great to have all these kids from different communities coming together,” says Pearl, the mother of a 4th grader at Sherman Elementary. “Boys need something for boys. An event like this really raises their awareness of the fact that there are kids all over the city just like them. It’s a crime prevention tool.”
She’s right, of course. Trends suggest that youth involvement in sports promote positive social values, higher self esteem, and a healthy lifestyle. Leagues such as this one also require accountability, both from the students on the team and from parents, school staff, and members of the greater community. Moreover, they do this at a critical time. “Cuts are being made to public education,” says the father of a student from the Tenderloin Community School. “But it’s important for kids to still have access to sports.” Another father, Tom, echoes this sentiment. “Parents might not always have the time or knowledge to teach their child a sport,” he tells me. “I see a lot of emphasis on fundamentals here. And a lot of energetic young adults working as coaches.”
But while concepts like socioeconomics, crime prevention, and community support are perhaps not at the forefront of the minds of the boys playing basketball, it’s equally unlikely that they are completely blind to them, as evidenced by comments from the kids I talk to who are waiting for their turn to play some dribble tag. “It’s great to meet kids from different schools,” says one boy. “It’s a positive way to spend time,” says another.
I couldn’t agree more.
Written by Coach Alex from Sherman Elementary School.