Youth from Austin will square off in the 8th Annual Cross-City Hoops in the Hood Tournament this weekend.
Austin is one of 14 neighborhoods that will compete Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Seward Park for a chance to bring home a trophy.
Thoughout the summer, residential blocks are closed to traffic weekly for street basketball and other recreational activities, which are designed to teach leadership skills, social responsibility and teamwork while nurturing civic engagement and community building.
The purpose of the program is to reclaim the streets for the children and provide a safe environment for “kids to be kids,” said Keri Blackwell, deputy director of LISC.
“It’s really intended to provide safe spaces for kids to be together, but to also bring neighbors out of their homes to get to know each other, to get to know the youth and activate these public spaces for public purpose,” Blackwell said.
The program started in 2007 with four neighborhoods, and has since expanded to 14 neighborhoods and served 12,000 youth. This year, about 2,500 children participated in the program.
Blackwell said the program has had an impact on the participants, teaching them the streets belong to them and how to interact with their neighbors and others in the area.
“The streets become, safe and they become sacred,” Blackwell said.
Austin has participated in the programs for a few years and hosted last year’s event, said Roslind Blasingame-Buford, executive director of BUILD.
On Fridays this summer, the nonprofit closed off local blocks in Austin to set up portable hoops, card and domino games, music and grills in hopes of empowering residents to reclaim their streets and promote peace, Buford said.
Buford said programs like Hoops in the Hood are critical and can give communities hope.
“They’re extremely important, especially with so much violence happening, especially youth violence throughout our communities,” she said. “These types of programs are set up to offer that sense of hope, while allowing people to have fun and be safe.”
Buford said she hopes to expand the program.
At this weekend’s tournament, youth who regularly participated, demonstrated a knowledge and respect for teamwork, and presented themselves as leaders will participate and be honored, Blackwell said.
Rob Castaneda, tournament manager for Hoops in the Hoods, said he’s a firm believer in doing things that kids are passionate about – like basketball and sports – and using those activities as vehicles to teach life lessons and build positive relationships.
“There’s a lot of amazing energy around the idea of using sports and playing to bring people together,” Casteneda said.
The tournament, sponsored by State Farm, will consist of 31 teams from participating neighborhoods, including Austin, Little Village, Pilsen, Englewood, Back of the Yards, East Garfield Park, Auburn Gresham and North Lawndale.