After public pressure, hoops will be going back up in public parks in the birthplace of basketball.
The Springfield parks department will “tentatively” reinstall the hoops on all public basketball courts in parks and playgrounds the week of May 17th, according to a press release from the office of Mayor Domenic Sarno.
For several weeks, activists had lobbied for the outdoor basketball courts to reopen to give the city’s youth a safe recreational outlet. They called City Councilors, launched an online petition, and held news conferences.
Troy Walker was among two dozen people at Adams Park in the Mason Square neighborhood on Earth Day last month who called on the city to put back the hoops.
"I grew up on these same streets, the same courts and this is an opportunity for us to have some type of recreation so we are not doing foolishness out in the streets," Walker said.
The hoops were taken off all the backboards in the parks in March 2020 because officials said they wanted to discourage close contact and large gatherings that could spread COVID-19. The basketball courts have been effectively closed ever since.
Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said the decision to put the hoops back now was based on public health data, not politics.
"The basketball courts is always something that I have had on the radar," Caulton-Harris told the City Council COVID-19 Response Committee shortly after the announcement from the mayor's office about the plans to put back the hoops.
She said new COVID-19 cases are rapidly declining in Springfield and she expects the city will shortly be reclassified from “red” to “yellow” on the state health department’s weekly report on infection risk.
Also, the state is allowing close-contact youth and adult sports tournaments to resume on May 10th and the city’s high schools will reopen for full-time in-person classes on May 17th.
"I still have some concerns, so I am really hopeful the community will be part of making sure our children are safe," Caulton-Harris said.
Activist and Ward 4 City Council candidate Jynai McDonald met with Caulton-Harris on April 30th and offered to have community organizations monitor the basketball courts to assure COVID-19 protocols are followed.
"I am delighted about the announcement and I can not help but make the connection between the meeting I had with the commissioner on Friday and (Tuesday's) announcement," McDonald said. "I look forward to seeing the hoops start to go up May 17th."
Speaking at a meeting of the City Council COVID-19 Response Committee, City Councilor Justin Hurst called on the administration to spell out a reopening plan.
" It would be good to have a plan especially if we have to pull back," Hurst said. "The backlash won't be as significant if folks know it in advance."
Caulton-Harris told the committee she is reviewing proposals to reopen public library buildings. The branch libraries have been operating with curbside pickup procedures.