Neighbors in the area of Holme Avenue and Willits Road have had access to two outdoor basketball courts for decades, but they never got much use.
It wasn’t that the local folks don’t enjoy the game. In fact, the nearby Holme Playground gymnasium has been host to one of the Northeast’s best summer basketball leagues for the last 12 years. The outdoor courts were a different story.
“The courts were really unplayable,” said Bob Hoffman, basketball director for the Penn Academy Athletic Association. “There was a crack going across both courts that you could really stick your foot in. The kids in the neighborhood couldn’t even play on them. They barely even used them.”
The courts have been getting a lot more use this month since City Councilman Bobby Henon and representatives from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation as well as the Department of Public Property cut the ribbon on $363,000 of improvements to Holme Playground on Sept. 16.
Besides the two rebuilt courts, workers installed a new tot play area and a new play area for older children.
“We are making a serious capital investment in our parks and recreation,” Henon said. “The goal is to provide outdoor space where people can feel safe to play at least 60 minutes a day. Our Department of Parks and Recreation has great programs. And with the right equipment, the right space where our families can come out and have kids play safe, I think it’s worth the investment.”
The playground is on a triangular parcel of land abutting the Thomas Holme Elementary School. It gets a lot of use. Most of the ground is covered in well-worn grass with two soccer fields overlapping four baseball/softball diamonds.
The play areas are in the far western corner of the lot. Improvements include new equipment and padded mats on the ground. The nearby basketball courts have new surfacing, backboards, rims, support poles and nets.
“(The surface) has a little more bounce to it. It’s a little more comfortable on the feet and legs,” Hoffman said. “All the players like it and the officials like it. They reconfigured everything. Before, the baskets were supported by two poles right on the baseline. They took them out and moved them back three feet. So now when you’re driving baseline, you’re not going to run into a pole.”
It past years, the Penn Academy summer league maxed out at 32 teams. Hoffman was able to schedule four games a night, four nights a week in the Penn-Crisp gym. Now, he can plan on up to 64 teams and eight games a night, notwithstanding rain.
“We’re creating play hubs and they’re going to be working in concert with local schools, our recreation centers, our parks and our city outdoor spaces,” Henon said. “We’re making sure we have 2015 equipment that’s handicapped accessible.”
Plans are underway to rehab other playgrounds in the Northeast, the councilman added.
“I’m really looking forward to doing this throughout the entire (6th) district,” Henon said. ••