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This article was published 3/6/2016 (1170 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Most of us tend to just walk by vacant lots strewn with garbage or dandelion-covered boulevards, places in our neighbourhoods that belong to everybody. But not to us.
Then there’s young, proud and committed West End resident Eric Edwards.
When he saw a derelict inner-city basketball court with broken glass, tall grass and rims without nets, he decided to do something about it. Then, he looked for a crew to help him expand the effort and repair other neglected courts: five to start.
"The big issue here is a lot of the courts don’t have nets on the rims," Eric says. "That really deters people from using them."
Last week, Eric — who held his first basketball at age three and now, at 27, volunteers as a basketball instructor in a kids program — pitched the idea to Basketball Manitoba executive director Adam Wedlake. He asked Wedlake if he could use the organization’s website to call for volunteers to help with the cleanup and hanging of new nets.
Wedlake did more than that: Basketball Manitoba is supplying the nets.
Within a day, Eric had the names of five people willing to join him.
So how did he come up with the idea?
"I just noticed there were a lot of courts that were neglected in the area and just decided to fix them up."
Actually, there was more to it than that. Eric’s action was inspired by his mentor. Ten years ago, Dennis Bayomi began buying basketballs and randomly handed them to kids on the street, a one-man effort that evolved into an organized program; Basketball For Inner-City Kids.
But it didn’t end there and, of course, he had help.
"There’s been a lot of people doing a lot of work for quite a few kids," Bayomi says.
It goes back to the efforts of the late Carl Ridd, who introduced basketball to the kids at Rossbrook House.
Later, Bayomi picked up a bunch of balls and ran with an idea that came to him in 2006 after he finished his master’s degree in community health and was wondering how to link his education with his love of basketball.
"I thought, ‘You know what, it wouldn’t take much to get some basketballs to kids. And it wouldn’t dent my pocketbook much.’ So I ended up buying 30 or 40 basketballs."
And then he gave them away.
"I ended up driving, quite honestly, up and down streets: Furby, Spence, Agnes, Simcoe. Over the bridge near Machray School, near David Livingstone School. Just up and down streets where there would be adults with kids. I’d just — out the window — ‘Would you like a basketball?’ And the response was incredible."
So it went, this one man’s follow-the-bouncing-basketball effort to give inner-city kids a ball to play with during the summer holidays. And hopefully beyond. Until Baymoi decided he couldn’t just keep driving up and down streets handing out basketballs. And that the kids needed a structured program where they could take their outdoor court shooting and dribbling to play on teams.
At first that meant contacting recreation centres in the area "like Magnus Eliason (on Langside Street), and they said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to get some basketballs. And while you’re at it, we also have a problem with lice. I thought, ‘My God, there’s more than just basketballs that we’ve got to help with.’"
Bayomi managed to round up help for children who had lice. A supply of jerseys for the kids followed. That was the planted seed that grew into Basketball For Inner-City Kids, and from that, a summer Saturday University of Manitoba outreach program that’s been running for four years out of a parking lot on the Bannatyne Avenue campus where Bayomi is employed.
The program, supported by the city and Basketball Manitoba, is known as SWISH — Summer Weekend Inner-City Supervised Hoops. Not only do people from the community help out, so do Bison basketball players, both men and women.
But Bayomi wasn’t finished giving away basketballs.
During the last 10 years, his largely unheralded work at the street level has resulted in inner-city kids receiving as many as 5,000 basketballs.
It has also inspired an annual giveaway program.
"Every Grade 6 student who graduates — basically that’s every Grade 6 student in 12 inner-city district elementary schools — gets a basketball at the end of the year."
Bayomi’s story — and his disciple Eric Edward’s own efforts — are a reminder of how one person with a simple idea can make a difference in the lives of children.
"Yup," says Eric, "that’s the idea."
Because it’s not just a basketball or a cleaned-up basketball court they’re giving inner-city kids.
They’re giving them a chance.
And maybe the hope that the only court they ever see as a youth is one they get to dribble on.