By Rosalie Tirella
Three or so weeks ago I was driving by the Chandler Elementary School playground in Piedmont – watching the little kids scramble all over the colorful little slide and play-scape Worcester Mayor Joe Petty had installed after I called him last winter and told him the kids in Piedmont, an inner-city neighborhood that doesn’t have a lot of green, open space, could use a little something fun in their ‘hood. The playground was all concrete and kinda bleak.
Well, as soon as spring had sprung, not only was a playground installed by the city, but a mini-community garden had sprouted up as well! Such a joy to see the tall sunflowers in their raised flower beds swaying in the summer breeze! In June and July you could see Dads sitting on the new benches installed around the colorful slides and ladders watching their little kids play.
As I drove by the school a few weeks ago and watched the little kids and their parents enjoying the playscape in early, but mild, wintertime, I saw this: A boy, about 12, a few yards away from everyone on the playscape, bouncing a basketball. He was too big for the playscape but HE WANTED TO PLAY! The little kids had no interest in hoop, he had no interest in little twirly slides. He was a solitary little man, nursing big dreams! We all know 12-, 13-, 14- and 15-year- old boys (and girls!) love to play basketball! My kid sister adored the sport and played girls varsity basketball for St. Mary’s High School on Richland Street, grades 9 to 12! My mom never missed her games – home or away! GO, TRINA, GO, TRINA! she’d yell from the bleachers during the games, standing up with the crowd, cheering!
But here, in Piedmont, there was no basketball hoop for this tween to WOOSH his basketball through! No backboard to use as a backdrop for a wanna-be hook shot. No crowd or even a few pals to watch the action, CHEER HIM ON. Where could he dribble his basketball to???!
So there the boy stood, bouncing his basketball on grey concrete in the winter sun during one of our unseasonably mild winter days.
My God!!! I thought to myself, this kid would love a pick up game of hoop with the neighborhood kids! He’s just itching to practice his foul shots! I can tell!
And what boy couldn’t use a good, brisk, get-your-cheeks-ruddy run around his neighborhood school yard!?
So I called Mayor Petty! I have him on mental speed dial cuz he’s so good when it comes to caring about inner-city kids!
Joe! I said, totally in the moment … . We need you!!!!!
I told him what I just told you: I SEE THIS BOY, JUST BOUNCING A BASKETBALL. HE’S TOO BIG TO PLAY ON THE PLAYSCAPE. HE WANTS TO PLAY HOOP! I BET A LOT OF THE OLDER KIDS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WANT TO PLAY BASKETBALL, TOO. CAN YOU PUT IN A HOOP FOR THEM?
Petty is Worcester’s QUIET MAN – our John Wayne: understated, modest honorable and honest. He gets things done. THE RIGHT THINGS, with ZERO gabbing, backslapping or phony politician-speak. Refreshing!
Yes, is what he said to me. We’ll work on it.
I knew he’d come through! And drove by the Chandler Street School playground smiling!
Then I drove by once a week to check on the progress. Yesterday I saw this:
A beacon of fun in a tough urban environment! For our city kids!
I’m amazed that Worcester doesn’t throw a parade in honor of Petty. He’s our Tom Menino: he’s got THE VISION FOR A GREAT CITY and SWEATS THE SMALL STUFF, the basketball hoops, the playscapes, the little improvements that make a big difference in neighborhoods – especially the poor and working class.
A thousand tweaks, scores of playgrounds, dozens of murals, one more neighborhood celebration, PLEASE! – this is what gives a city its complex beauty!
Yes, it’s only a basketball hoop.
But not to the 12-year-old boy bouncing his basketball.
(Now, maybe some wonderful volunteers can paint in a foul line and/or make all that concrete a mini basketball court?)