—– By: Ann Costantino —–
Loch Raven Village basketball friends hope to inspire others to ‘jump in’ on community projects
As an 11-year-old boy in 2003, Christian Collins wondered why hoops – installed on an outdoor court at his neighborhood school one summer – came down as quickly as they had gone up after he and other kids thought they had found a permanent central gathering place for games of basketball.
An unknown good Samaritan had put them in. But as soon as they were erected, they vanished after only two weeks of use.
Up until then, Collins, now 27, and other kids in the Loch Raven Village area of Baltimore County played in alleyways or in the front of crowded driveways, dribbling and swishing balls through hoops that belonged to other residents in the area, sometimes resorting to throwing balls through the empty metal bars that hold up the missing backboards at abandoned courts.
But for those two weeks – when kids could gather using regulation-height rims on a court conducive for a “real” game of basketball – friends and even strangers could spend an afternoon laughing and burning off energy under the sun.
They were able to play their favorite sport together, until one day when they arrived for a game, the rims were simply gone. The kids were then forced to return to the hidden alleys, crowded driveways and empty metal bars to resume any resemblance of a game of basketball.
Years later, after graduating from Parkville High School and later leaving Baltimore County, Collins traversed the country and lived in Los Angeles for a brief stint where he learned a trade as a handyman.
He said he learned a lot more about Baltimore County by leaving the area.
“I’ve traveled the country and been to almost every major city in America. In my travels I’ve noticed many things, but the main thing is the abundance of recreation parks, and more specifically PUBLIC BASKETBALL COURTS,” Collins said in a Facebook post. “This is something that has been scarce in Baltimore for far too long… so I decided to do something about it! I bought two basketball rims, and painted these worn backboards at my old middle school…”
Collins said he was inspired by the late Nipsey Hussle, a rapper, entrepreneur and philanthropist who was shot to death in March in front of his own Los Angeles-based clothing store.
Hussle was known for giving back to his community. He opened a business park, created job opportunities, was known to pay for the funeral costs for gun violence victims, and renovated a local roller rink and an elementary school basketball court in his community.
Within weeks after Hussle’s death, Collins was moved to make a change in his own neighborhood. He said he had to “do the right thing.” He wanted to do for Baltimore County, what Hussle had done for Los Angeles.
Collins looked around his old stomping grounds and said, “I know this is hurting the kids.” And he set out to change it.
When he started his first project at Loch Raven Technical Academy in April, he did not seek permission from anyone, flirting with the prospect of unintentionally vandalizing government property, despite his intentions to actually improve the courts. Since then, he has sought and received permission from administrators and staff members from three schools. He has their support.
A risk in business is going against the grain. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable ones persist, trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man…
Explaining what motivated him to do it anyway – in the face of potential opposition or trouble – Collins pointed to a video of Hussle who quoted 20th century playwright and political activist, George Bernard Shaw.
“A risk in business is going against the grain. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable ones persist, trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man… It’s radicals,” Hussle said.
Collins used his own money to replace two hoops and backboards at his old school, Loch Raven Technical Academy. He spent about $140 to complete the project. But for courts that required painted lines, the tab would rise to about $500.
After his first project, an old childhood friend, Davon Moore, now 29, reached out to Collins and said he wanted in on the project.
We’re just community members trying to make a difference and make this world a better place…
Collins said it was from then on forward when the project took off. Giving the credit to his friend, he said, “I wouldn’t have come this far if it wasn’t for Davon… I would have done the one court and kind of maintained it… But, it is because he got involved and we purchased four rims that put pressure on me to do two more courts… It is because of him that this movement has come this far,” Collins said.
“We’re just community members trying to make a difference and make this world a better place,” he added.
Collins also said the basketball projects – which they named #BuildBaltimore and #BuildMyCity – are more than just restoring the hoops in his Baltimore County community.
He said he hopes others join the movement to take care of their communities in this and other ways. And he hopes that Baltimore County government will step up and finish the job.
Jumping through Hoops
Over the past year, Baltimore County government has assisted developers on their multi-million dollar projects. The cost to restore the basketball courts at schools and recreation centers would be minimal, compared to the millions doled out for the development projects in recent months and years.
In 2017, for instance, The Baltimore Post reported that former County Administrative Officer Fred Homan, under the late Kevin Kamanetz and his administration, paid at least $120,000 to remove a building and trees from a property the county was selling as-is to developer, Caves Valley Partners.
Also in 2017, the County Council approved $43 million in grants and forward funding to the same developer for its mixed use Towson Row project.
Earlier this year, under new County Executive Johnny Olszewski, council members approved another $78 million grant, this time to help billionaires pay for infrastructure for the Tradepoint Atlantic project in Sparrows Point.
According to a Joint Use Agreement between Baltimore County government and Baltimore County Board of Education, the public is permitted to use school courts during non-school hours.
Restoring the equipment is also the responsibility of both agencies since the agreement states that each shares in the maintenance and repair of the facilities, such as indoor and outdoor spaces which include courts and athletic fields.
Collins and Moore hope to get county support for improved recreational facilities and the restoration of fully operational basketball courts at more neighborhood schools.
The Olszewski administration, which inherited an $81 million deficit when Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski took office in December, did not respond to questions about whether the administration would be willing to support continued basketball projects at county recreational centers and schools, for which Collins and Moore paid between $140 to $500 each. The cost does not cover court renovations for locations where structures are too far gone to repair.
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the sixth council district that covers the area where the new hoops were installed, could not be reached for comment.
Collins has dedicated the #BuildBaltimore movement to friends whose lives were cut short.
He says he’s had a heavy heart while restoring the courts, which he built in honor of “all those that I know who were gone too soon before the world got a chance to see their greatness. You motivate me every day,” he said. “I love you all.” Some of those friends played on the same courts with Collins and Moore.
But the movement has not come without some pushback, including from those with dogs who have used the courts as a way to allow their pets to run leashless for exercise.
Two hoops were also destroyed shortly after they were installed. Although he said they picked courts that were not too close to homes in the area, it was a sign, Collins said, which showed them where communities might be resisting the most.
Water bottles, left behind by some players where outdoor waste containers either overflowed or were not available, have also elicited some criticism.
Collins said the noise and exuberance – characteristic at basketball games – might also be a factor for some pushback, but he said the neighborhood belongs to everyone, not just some who live there, adding that residents knew where they were moving when they chose to buy or rent a home next to a school or recreation center with outdoor facilities.
The friends moved quickly through the areas, breathing life into old courts, hoping it inspires others to do the same. They bypassed courts where repair would be too cost prohibitive and in neighborhoods where courts are especially close to residences.
Since starting with Loch Raven Technical Academy Middle School, the pair have made improvements to courts at Harford Mills Middle and Parkville High schools.
Their most recent project concluded last Sunday at the Loch Raven Recreation Center where they hope the center’s interior court can also be improved.
The center will soon erect metal signs with posted rules written, in part, by Collins and Moore. Times for court usage, garbage disposal and keeping noise levels to a minimum will be among them.
Fruits of their Labor
During a Baltimore Post interview with Collins on the outdoor Loch Raven Rec Center court on Tuesday, two boys walked up to play a game using the newly installed hoops. The boys said they heard from other kids in the area about the new equipment. They were excited to be there, using the court for the first time with actual rims.
The boys said, up until then, they had played in alleys near their homes, and through the empty metal bars to which the backboards and rims are supposed to be affixed. Collins nodded. Nothing had changed from the time he and Moore were kids over fifteen years ago. Until Sunday.
The boys bounced their orange ball back-and-forth, as they thanked Collins for the new setup. They quickly began their game, forgetting anyone was standing behind them.
But the court, although adjacent to a fully functional and lighted tennis court, had lacked basketball equipment and painted lines as far back as when Collins and Moore were kids in the neighborhood.
The fact that tennis has remained in some areas – and basketball has not – says a lot, according to Collins.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s like a classism/racism kind of thing. I think it is a lot of urban culture that plays basketball versus a more suburban culture that lives closer to the basketball courts.”
He said that since Baltimore County is one of the most diverse counties in the country, there are demographics in the same neighborhoods where some parents can afford to pay for their kids’ sports and club memberships, whereas other kids in the same areas don’t have the same opportunities.
Kids need the outlet, he said. They need the courts for socialization and exercise, and a place to play their favored sport.
Collins and Moore set up a GoFundMe account to invite others who see their vision to join in on the mission. So far the pair has spent about $1,000 out-of-pocket on improvements at three courts.
The fundraiser has raised $350 which paid for improvements at the community center. Labor and equipment for the painted lines were donated by a professional painter interested in the #BuildMyCity project.
As for the future, Collins said he would love to see others join the #BuildBaltimore and #BuildMyCity movement.
He said that he hopes it inspires others to also breathe new life into their communities where basketball courts and recreational areas have been deserted, devoid of the sound of bouncing balls, squeaking shoes and laughing friends.
“It’s not just about #BuildBaltimore; it’s every county and city,” Collins said. “It’s a movement to improve your community, no matter where you are.”
“Everybody can look around and say ‘hey, this should be better. There shouldn’t be this trash laying in a gutter.’ Everyone should be out there trying to make a difference for the greater (good) of everybody,” Collins said. “It really brings communities together. It wouldn’t even just have to be basketball.”