This past Saturday I spent my afternoon secluded atop the bleachers at Washington, D.C.’s New York Avenue Classic Summer Basketball Tournament. An uptown compilation of area teens dribbling and dunking, free food and music was enough to generate a modest crowd for the tourney’s 10th anniversary on a lazy Saturday. The humidity was fierce, sweat beading the brows of several in attendance. But, for the few split seconds when perspiration wasn’t clouding my peripherals, the perspective became clear: the youth basketball scene in the District is a pretty provocative picture.
The New York Avenue tournament first started 10 years ago with some simple goals in mind: provide the local youth with a constructive outlet and cut down the violence. The results? Prosperous, to say the least, as evidenced by Saturday’s talented showcase. With a few other organized tournaments in the area, most notably the legendary Goodman League, the New York Avenue tournament is the only one strictly limited to youths. From ages as early as 7 and 8 to 19, the tourney has helped put kids into college, the NBA and professional leagues overseas.
For the others, the tournament has helped teach kids structure and teamwork in addition to allowing adolescents to cross over zone lines of their sheltered neighborhoods and create cross-town colleagues.
“For us as an organization, our main goal is to get these kids to take a little pride in their neighborhood, get to know each other and advance themselves as young men,” says Terrance Judge, president and co-commissioner of the New York Avenue Classic. “They’ve gotten to play together, they’ve gotten to know each other better and it’s helped cut down a lot of beef by being on the basketball court.”
Saturday was an all day affair at New York Avenue’s playground. With close to 20 teams on hand, more than 100 youngsters entered the gates once the park opened at 10 a.m. With so many teams, it made it impossible to keep up with the who’s who and what’s what, but that didn’t appear to be important. While a deejay made sure to kick shout-outs to the winning teams, even members of squads that failed short received face time. With teenagers flexing microphones and smiling bright, statements like “we had a good run this year but we’ll be back stronger next year” provide a hint to the priorities of the tourney’s hoopsters that often gets buried under other news stories.
Kids in the District get ragged on often. The violence rate is high and adolescents habitually bear the blame. But watching youths dribble behind their back, knock down fadeaway jumpers and dish no-look passes offers something different to the regularly scheduled programs on local news channels. For all of the wrongs with the city’s youngsters, there’s a lot they do right, and events like the New York Avenue Classic helps to put the positives up front and the negatives safely behind.