Tuesday, August 25, 2015 || By Michael Romain
On a recent Sunday afternoon in Maywood, Captain Denard Wade, Sr., a Maywood fireman, stood on a basketball court at Connor Heise Park, at the intersection of 10th Avenue and Washington Blvd.
“I remember winning a championship back in ’84 on this center court right here,” Wade said, recalling the glory of his youth, when summer basketball in this village was king. Tenth Park is Maywood’s version of the Rucker — a local mecca of basketball tradition that has seen better days.
The Reebok rims donated years ago by by Los Angeles Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers, a product of these courts, have accumulated layers of rust. Some backboards and goals are missing altogether. The court’s synthetic surfacing is completely worn away at some points.
The wear-and-tear, though, didn’t stop Wade’s colleague, Maywood Fire Captain Laighton Scott, and professional basketball player Quinton Beasley, another product of these courts, from organizing a back-to-school tournament earlier this month.
The tournament complemented a back-to-school giveaway at Winfield Scott Park, at the intersection of 17th Avenue and Maywood Drive, held on the Sunday of the tournament’s championship game. The giveaway was sponsored by Athletic Konnection, a sports training organization comprising a close band of athletes who are alumni of area elementary and high school programs.
“This right here is what keeps people from bleeding on the streets,” Wade said, his voice nearly drowned out by the grunts and shouts and footsteps emanating from the courts that flanked him. “That’s all I care about.”
The tournament was open to adolescents and teenagers. For the perhaps the first time, Wade said, boys played head-to-head against, and side-by-side with, ambitious girls like 11-year-old Zolottie Caldwell.
“I want to be a famous basketball player, but they usually take people out of high school. I want to finish school first,” Caldwell said nonchalantly as she worked the scoreboard during a semifinal game.
“Some of these girls play better than the boys,” Wade said, before pointing out one girl who is a Division I college player and another girl, a teenager, who has the potential to compete at that level, if not higher. Wade couldn’t point them all out, there were so many — the whole court brimming with up-and-coming female hoops talent.
To say nothing of the boys, who are always coming up behind the ones that have gone before them — James “Papa” Brewer preceded Doc Rivers who preceded Michael Finley who preceded Shannon Brown.
“This is beautiful,” said Brown’s father, Chris Brown, a retired Maywood police officer, of the action at 10th Court. “This gives them confidence. They’ve been honored, they’ve been saluted for their efforts, they’re not out here in the streets with gangs or stuff like that. So that’s our mission — to empower them so they can resort to life’s positive aspects.”
Everett Stubblefield, 35, was at the tournament as a volunteer referee. He remembers when the Reebok rims were first installed. He remembers when Doc Rivers’s footprints were still visible in a cement block right off of the courts. He remembers dripping sweat on this court — sweat he would leverage into athletic scholarships at various colleges and universities. He now coaches basketball at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park.
“These kids need to see this,” he said. “They need to see black men coming back to the community. They need to see men and women out here in unity. They definitely need positive role models to keep them going. A lot of them don’t get a chance to see stuff like this.”
Stubblefield, a graduate of Washington Elementary and Proviso East High School, was getting ready to watch one of his sons take the court for the championship game.
Tre Brown, a member of Athletic Konnection who planned the back-to-school giveaway at Winfield Scott, said Sunday was just the prelude to what he believes will be a flourishing of athletic and academic activity in the village. He said he envisions distributing free supplies to thousands of children in the not-so-distant future. Already, he noted, hundreds of kids frequent the organization’s various Halloween, Easter and Christmas activities and giveaways.
“My slogan is Bible, books and basketball,” Brown said. “If you don’t have those books, you’re not going to be able to go anywhere. We want to do this every year with even more entities.”
Brown stressed that the activity at Winfield Scott shouldn’t be considered separate from the activity at 10th Park. They were two sides of the same coin.
“They need to see black men coming back to the community. They need to see men and women out here in unity. They definitely need positive role models to keep them going.”
“We’re working together. We were over there yesterday watching them. Today, it just happened that we scheduled both events at the same time. But when they finish over there [at the 10th Park tournament], they’re going to come over here [to Winfield Scott] to play softball,” Brown said, adding that his organization distributed book bags and school supplies to roughly 150 students.
The supplies were acquired through a partnership with ComEd. At 10th Park, Maywood police officers were passing out free food, book bags and supplies provided by officers David Gude, Larry Connor, Corey Cooper and Sonja Horn.
The day seemed to defy all of the typical Maywood stereotypes — that the town is insufferably divided against itself, that there’s nothing going on, that cooperation is alien to people here.
“Everybody pitched in to make this happen,” said Wade of the basketball tournament. He said all of the village’s taxing bodies and various departments — from police to fire to public works — contributed resources and money to make the tournament possible.
Wade expressed hope that Sunday’s basketball tournament would build some forward momentum and act as a catalyst for more permanent programming at the park. Wade said he envisions an outdoor basketball league that would operate during select summer months on Tuesdays and Thursdays — like how it was in the past.
And Stubblefield said he and some other ball players envision renovations to the courts at 10th Park that could come as early as next year.
Wade said tournaments like the one Laighton planned work to engender confidence in present and former community members who may want to donate money and resources to projects like court renovations. It shows them that Maywood can still do big things and that those who want to give back should feel comfortable doing so.
“There’s structure and order here. We’re getting it done. It’s a start,” said Wade. “The kids won’t walk away with big trophies. Uh, uh. They’re going to make some memories.” VFP