Midnight Basketball is giving thousands of young males in poor neighbourhoods of U.S. cities an opportunity to play the game and keep out of trouble
Anthony Carter, a 22-year-old African-American, is a star player in the University of Hawaii Basketball team. He has already had lucrative offers from prestigious clubs in the National Basketball Association (NBA) league.
Not long ago, Carter was one of many poor young males looking for opportunities in Atlanta's Jonesboro south suburb, known for its high crime rate. His life took a different turn after he joined the local "Midnight Basketball" (MBL) league where he spent three years. As a result, he is now in university and looking ahead to a bright future in the NBA league. MBL, which organizes basketball played between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m, has changed the lives of many young males like Carter who live in the poor neighbourhoods of Atlanta and might otherwise have drifted into crime. (See box.)
The only difference between Midnight Basketball and normal basketball is that it is played at hours when young inner city males are most vulnerable to the drug culture, crime and other negative activity. In a nutshell, MBL takes the players off the street at night and places them in a playground area under organized and structured conditions. Emmanuel Hunt, Jr, President of Atlanta MBL, quoting police records, says that the programme has helped to bring down the crime rate in the inner city, which fell by 40 per cent in the last five years.
Chapters in fifty cities
The first Midnight Basketball League was started in 1986 in Glenarden, Maryland, and since then the idea has spread to major cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Cleveland and Detroit. Like NBA, MBL has its own organized structure. Today, it has 50 chapters nationwide and about 10,000 youngsters play in MBL games across the country. The Commissioner's office is located in Chicago and there are regional offices which organize tournaments between local teams and between cities. Last year, according to National Association of MBL officials, about 200,000 spectators watched the matches per night nationwide and the television viewership crossed the 3.5 million mark.
MBL players, selected normally on open tryouts in each city, are in the 17-25 age group and on average spend three to four years in the programme. They are distributed among different teams which play in a local league. Most participants in the MBL are African-Americans, members of the group that outnumbers other ethnic groups in the poor neighbourhoods of many U.S. cities. "Participation in the league is open to all young males. We do not discriminate on racial or ethnic grounds in selecting the players," says Tony Adams, an official at the Fountain City MBL of Columbus, Georgia.
What makes an MBL match different from a normal basketball game? Before each event, the players have to attend a one-hour workshop which focuses on topics like job interview skills, financial management, AIDS/HIV awareness, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, conflict resolution and entrepreneurship. Anyone who does not attend these classes is not allowed on the basketball court. "Instructors encourage the participants to take up jobs and sometimes the local association helps them to find one," says Hunt.
There are eight to ten teams in each chapter with 10-12 players in each team, and each team plays on an average three to four games per week during a summer season. MBL players can stay in the league till they reach 25 years of age and some of those who retire come back to the system as instructors, coaches and volunteers.
"The stress is on discipline, punctuality and behaviour. Members are not allowed to enter the court if they come late for the class and if they misbehave during a game they are immediately sent out," says Mark Gallagher, assistant sports supervisor at the Recreation and Arts Center in Waterloo, Iowa. …