The sounds of basketballs dribbling, young people cheering and nets swishing now echo off the walls at a new home for teens hoopsters at a former Morris Park Catholic school.
Aspiring teen hoop stars can practice their game at St. Dominic’s Catholic school Tuesday nights thanks to a youth basketball program courtesy of the 49th Precinct and Police Athletic League.
And in the spirit of the program, cobbling the seasonal venue was a team effort with organizations pooling their resources to get it up and running.
It began in early fall with the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance calling for the program in a neighborhood without any great outlets for teens.
“There’s no community center in Van Nest,” noted Bernadette Ferrara, vice president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance.
She turned to Fr. Robert Badillo of St. Dominic Church, urging him to open the school’s doors for a teen program.
But Badillo had reservations about opening the school gym – until there was some liability insurance and security in play.
“You have to be prudent about these things,” said Badillo, “to make sure everything is in place.”
Needing further convincing, he met with 49th Precinct Captain Lorenzo (Andy) Johnson and Youth Officer Chris Traumer, a towering veteran cop who plays center for the NYPD basketball team.
Johnson and Traumer turned to the Police Athletic League to help fund the liability insurance and security needed for the program.
“We saw a need for the youth to be kept active,” said Traumer. “At the same time we can talk to them about drug awareness, gang awareness and build a relationship.”
Traumer cruised the local streets of Morris Park and Van Nest, visiting homes and spreading the word on the program to teens ages 14 to 19 who were hanging around makeshift basketball courts.
“With sports, you can get to young people and make a connection,” said Traumer, no stranger to youth development, having led the precinct’s NYPD Explorers Program, which teaches teens the fundamentals of law enforcement.
The new program is the third Bronx one sponsored by the PAL, a longtime youth development group providing after-school programs. The program falls under PAL’s Teen Impact Center initiative, designed to steer vulnerable youngsters into safer places at night.
PAL’s various programs are designed to hopefully keep kids out of trouble. A framed sign detailing the PAL’s conduct of conduct will hang on the gym wall, a reminder that teens need to be good citizens to participate.
PAL staffers along with officers from the 49th Precinct will help ref the evening games, which could run from intramurals or just a game of free throw.
The program runs Tuesday nights from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., though it’s unclear when the program will cease.
For further information, call the precinct at 718) 918-2046 or call the Police Athletic League at (212) 477-9450.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383