Chicago’s latest hoop dreams came closer to reality this month.
Last week the city kicked-off a new after-school basketball program, called Windy City Hoops, with its first round of regular basketball tournaments.
Earlier this year, city officials announced plans to give local teenagers in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods an organized, year-round basketball league, and use it to promote alternatives to youth violence. They wanted a league that could accommodate as many as 800 teenagers, but lacked the $480,000 they would need to cover the costs of space, referees, coaches and jerseys.
So officials took a cue from start-ups, nonprofits and DIYers, and created an Indiegogo page to raise some of the funds from individual donors. The mayor’s office is working on raising the rest from foundations.
Tarrah Cooper, a City Hall spokeswoman, said the city is ending this week just $20,000 short of the fundraising goal. So far about 110 students have signed up for the program, she said.
The league plays on Friday and Saturday nights in neighborhoods around the city where violence and poverty are fixtures, officials said, doubling the number of hours of teen basketball programming available through the Park District. The Park District has long offered courts for teenagers to play pickup games of basketball, but many of them do not offer more organized team activities.
The idea for Windy City Hoops was born of a meeting between Hall of Fame basketball player Isiah Thomas, who hails from the West Side, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel has highlighted the importance of after-school programming in under-served communities in recent speeches, saying those programs play a role in the street crime- and violence-prevention effort.
Martell Cowan, 18, an Austin resident who joined the league at Columbus Park earlier this month, said he values the program's encouraging environment, and the advice he gets from coaches. Before this year he said he played in parks on his own, and for the basketball team at his high school, Urban Prep Academies West Campus.
“I know I’m in a safe environment, I know I can showcase my talents, and play against new competition and better competition,” he said. “I’ve been going on every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
Windy City Hoops is open in ten parks around the city, with all but one on the South or West Sides, according to its website: