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Springfield Officials Defend Continued Closing Of Basketball Courts

a hoopless basketball backboard
Paul Tuthill

Plans are in the works to reopen swimming pools and summer camps in Springfield, Massachusetts, but not outdoor basketball courts.

About two dozen people gathered one day last week on the basketball court at Adams Park in Springfield’s Mason Square neighborhood and called on the city to put the hoops back up and allow pickup games to resume after more than a year of no basketball in the city’s parks and playgrounds.

Troy Walker said young people in the neighborhood need the recreational outlet of playing basketball in the parks.

"I grew up on these same streets, these same courts, and this is an opportunity just for us to have some type of recreation so we are not doing foolishness out here on the streets," Walker said.  "There is a lot of crime out here in this environment ... and I don't like it."

At the beginning of the pandemic last year, Springfield and cities all across the country closed outdoor basketball courts.   For months, the city allowed only passive recreation –walking and jogging with social distancing – in the parks. But as coronavirus infections subsided over the summer, more activities were allowed including tennis.  Children’s play areas and splash pads opened.

But, the hoops remain down. 

"This city has opened up the Basketball Hall of Fame, they've opened up restaurants, they've opened up clubs, hookah lounges, schools. Those are all indoors. All I'm saying is why can't we have outdoors. We can be COVID compliant. Put masks on and let the kids play," Walker said.

Springfield City Council President Marcus Williams noted that some other cities and towns in the region have reopened outdoor basketball courts.

"Perhaps there is a safe way for kids to play basketball with masks," Williams said. "I think those options should be explored."

Mayor Domenic Sarno and Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris were adamant this week about keeping the basketball courts closed while Springfield remains a high risk community for coronavirus spread.

"When you are on a basketball court, there is no supervision. People are going to be skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest. That is really concerning to me," Caulton-Harris said. "I am worried about our young peoples' health."

Caulton-Harris said as the risk of community spread subsides, the hoops policy will be revisited.

"It is not punitive," Caulton-Harris said about the hoops policy. "I am not trying to keep young people from not being able to be on those courts. I am just trying to keep them safe and that is my job."

Pools, swimming sites, and youth camps did not open last year in Springfield because of the pandemic.  But Sarno announced last month that summer recreation programs will return under public health and safety protocols.

The extent of the city’s summer recreation programming depends on being able to hire enough lifeguards and camp counselors said parks director Pat Sullivan.

"Our goal is to open up to six summer enrichment sites, Camp Star Angelina, and the pool sites and Five Mile Pond will depend on the number of applicants," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said details about the city’s summer recreation offerings will be announced in mid-May.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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