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Peace through basketball: ‘Hoops in the Hood’ takes over Balbo Drive

Video by Annie Costabile

On a typical weekday morning East Balbo Drive, between Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive, is choked with cars.

But Thursday, the sounds of basketballs bouncing, kids yelling “we got next!” and the whistles of referees regulating a series of games drowned out nearby traffic noise.

Some 400 kids from 20 neighborhoods around Chicago filled the street — where several basketball courts had been set up — for the 12th annual Hoops in the Hood Cross-City Finale, sponsored by the Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC), a community development group, and the Chicago Park District.

Kids from 20 neighborhoods came together to participate in the tournament. Meghan Hart, the executive director of LISC, said a total of 5,000 kids between 8 and 19 years old took part in the program throughout the summer.

Thursday marked the first time the city shut down an entire downtown street to host the championship tournament. It was also the first time many of the players had been downtown, organizers said.

Hoops in the Hood was created by LISC 12 years ago to help keep communities safe. The idea was to calm corners stricken with violence throughout the city by setting up basketball courts there.

“It breaks down the superficial barriers, the territorial boundaries and the divides between the neighborhoods,” said Michael Tidmore, youth program coordinator for Teamwork Englewood, which sponsored a team in the program. “It brings youth together to play in a fun safe environment. They get the opportunity to get to know each other, meet new friends and practice camaraderie and good sportsmanship.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in attendance, as was former Bulls players Bob Love and Mickey Johnson. Johnson did drills with the players and told them how basketball changed his life. He said the tournament reminded him of how important basketball used to be, when every court on every corner in neighborhoods throughout the city were filled with kids that just wanted to play next.

“It’s very dear to me because the Park District helped me out in my development,” Johnson said. “Hoops in the Hood is showing that we are a family of one no matter what area we live in.”

Kids said they could feel that sense of family.

“Basketball is the best way of making it out of Chicago,” 15-year-old Edward Butler said. “Hoops in the Hood is important because it keeps us off the streets. It keeps us doing the right thing and going the right way in life.”