NOLA for Life's Midnight Basketball

00:00 December 21, 2013

 When I first read about NOLA FOR LIFE’s Midnight Basketball, I remember thinking that I wish they had that in my neighborhood when I was growing up.  As I walked onto the basketball courts in the Joe W. Brown Recreation Center, hearing the familiar sound of the fan roaring as you open the door, and the sneakers squeaking on the hardwood, I couldn’t help but smile.  While I was watching one of the games, taking some pictures, a man from the prior game came up to me and asked me a question.
“What?” I asked, having been tuned into the game.
“You catch my dunk?” he asked.
This is how Saturday nights should be spent.  
Midnight Basketball provides a venue for our city’s youth in order to enjoy a game they love on Saturday nights. According to program coordinator Ryan Dalton, “The goal of NOLA FOR LIFE Midnight Basketball is to provide a safe and fun experience for young men in high volume crime areas during high crime hours, but more importantly, to connect at-risk youth to necessary resources to ensure their success. Every night at Midnight Basketball, we have resource tables, representatives from many different organizations, all focused on jobs, education, and support, in addition to our enrichment speaker, which are all positive role models and leaders in the community that come out each night to encourage and motivate the participants.” The Youth Empowerment Project keeps a couple of tables at the event, ready to assist anyone who wants to sign-up up for GEDs and/or job programs.  Peacekeapers, an organization that meets every Saturday from 4 – 5 to ensure peace in their neighborhoods, is also present.   
Midnight Basketball has now completed five seasons.  Each season, a different facility is used in order to host the games, which take place on Saturdays, from 8 p.m. – 12 a.m. (with registration starting at 7 p.m.)  While the recently completed 5th season occurred at the Treme Center on 900 N. Villere Street, the season before took place at the Joe W. Brown Recreation Center on Read Boulevard.  At the writing of this article, season 6, which is slated for February of 2014, does not have a confirmed location.
Players can come with their teams already made up, or as free agents, being picked up before the games start.  Each team is guaranteed at least two games, with each game lasting one eight-minute period. If the game is tied, a two-minute overtime is played. A bracket is made every night, and a chart is made for teams who win, with an incentive of a $1,000 prize which is awarded to the team that wins the most tournaments by the end of the season. Like a professional game, the contests are officiated by a team of three referees.  
The games bring a high school meets AAU meets Rucker Park element to the night, as you see players from all sorts of different backgrounds taking part in the program.  From ex-SUNO players to street-ballers, just watching everyone warm up, you can see how these are people have grown up loving and playing the game in different ways.  They are all here to spend a couple of hours together, to play a sport they love.
There are numerous ways that people can help the program. Dalton says that they always “welcome volunteers and sponsors for prizes.” People can also help by “lending their time to our mentorship component,” or even “[by] providing our participants with transportation options so they can attend.” One of the things that surprised me most, was when a volunteer mentioned how a lot of the same people make it to every season. People carpooling to leave their neighborhood for a game of basketball, whether it is in the Treme, New Orleans East, or Central City, is a beautiful thing to see. A program like this, that is a product of love, needs love from its community to sustain itself.
When I asked Dalton why he was so passionate about the project, he stated, “Through NOLA FOR LIFE Midnight Basketball, I am able to engage and share opportunities with a demographic that I am a part of and so deeply connected to.” And that’s what makes this program special. In a city where skepticism is sometimes cited over recent transplants using vernacular such as “saving” when doing community work for New Orleans, Midnight Basketball sticks out, as an event thrown by New Orleanians, for New Orleanians.  No one at these events needs to be saved, these men just need a place to play ball.  And they have one, on Saturday nights.  
As the night was ending for me, I went back to the man who asked if I had caught his dunk on camera.  While I hadn’t, I showed him a couple of pictures I had taken of him shooting a free throw.  He pointed out his favorite one, and I sent it over to him.  As I left, I said goodbye to Dalton, and he asked me, “So what did you think about it all?”
And I answered as honestly as I could, “Next time, I’ll bring my shorts.”

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