New hoops offer hope for Wilmington neighborhood

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(Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

(Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Wilmington’s Eastside has a reputation as one of the toughest places in the city, plagued with poverty and violence. But city leaders are hoping a new outlet for young people in the Eastside could help change that. 

From abandoned, boarded up homes to reports of shootings and violence, Wilmington’s Eastside is a tough neighborhood. It’s even tougher for young people who needed a place to play.

But now there is a great place to play at the nearby Kirkwood Street Park-  a pair of pristine basketball courts paid for with $50,000. “This is a major investment in this community,” Mayor Dennis Williams said last month at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We care about our children, so much…We want to commit ourselves back to doing things for people in the 3rd District and the entire city.”

Williams was raised in the 3rd District as was City Councilman Darius Brown who currently represents the district. “We believe in building better neighborhoods and improving the quality of life of our residents,” Brown said.

The new courts have a slick surface and pro-style hoops. Wilmington teen Duron Timmon was shooting hoops at the courts while city leaders cut the ribbon. He was impressed by the quality. “This one is more like an NBA official court,” Timmon said. “It has glass backboards, like you expect glass backboards to be inside a gym.”

Councilman Brown is optimistic that the new courts will not only help kids like Duron improve their play, but also improve their future outlook on life. “We firmly believe in helping strong, good, young people. So basketball court is a place for where many of us, including myself learn life lessons.”

Those life lessons are being taught to a new generation of Wilmington residents, mainly through the SILK Basketball League, which will call the new courts home. The league was founded in part by Jaron “Droop” Johnson in honor of his lifelong friend Terry “Silk” Alls, who died in a car crash.

The SILK league now includes 300 young players, but it’s about much more than just teaching basketball.

“Our volunteer coaches, we go beyond basketball once our season ends,” Johnson said. “We’ve been on parent-teacher conferences, field trips, talked to kids in general life discussions. Just take them under your wing to show that it ain’t just about basketball with us, we’re family, we try to bridge some gaps”

With new courts, and mentorship from the SILK league volunteers, Johnson sees big changes on the horizon. “The road was looking like it was rough at times, but the patience and diligence and conversation, it finally got done.  And I know that’s why the sun is shining bright, Silk is shining down on it like, ‘mission accomplished.’”

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