Best New Park and Recreation Program in Virginia
In October of 2017, several members of the Lynchburg Parks and Recreation Department attended the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society Annual Conference. During the four day conference there is a special evening of awards presented to the best park and recreation efforts in the State of Virginia. There are 110 parks and recreation departments across the state of varying sizes of which Lynchburg Parks and Recreation is one. This year was “our” year. The Lynchburg Parks and Recreation Department won 5 state awards – more than any other parks and recreation department of any size in the state.
This blog entry describes one of the awards, Best New Program. A lot of variables fell into place to prompt and allow for inaugural season of Hill City Hoops. A major contributing factor to Hill City Hoops implementation was having the resources available to plan, coordinate and implement the league. The City had just entered into a unique partnership with the Boys and Girls Club at Jefferson Park. The staff who worked at Jefferson Park was freed up to begin immediate organization of Hill City Hoops. We were fortunate that the Senior Recreation Specialist at Jefferson Park was also a high school and college basketball player – Tereika Grooms.
I decided to write this blog entry today in Tereika’s honor, as today is her last day with the Lynchburg Parks and Recreation Department. Many thanks to Tereika for all the passion, energy and effort that she invested in the award-winning Hill City Hoops summer basketball program. We wish her the best of luck in her new venture as an officer in the Lynchburg Police Department.
Hill City Hoops
Hill City Hoops is a central city summer basketball league born out of a tragic shooting at Younger Park in Lynchburg in 2016. Outraged that a Lynchburg teen was shot in one of the City’s parks, the Department called a community meeting at the Fairview Community Center. Sixty members from the Fairview community attended along with numerous City department representatives. After break-out session discussions and group reports, the City agreed to address 5 priority areas. The Lynchburg Parks and Recreation Department spearheaded the priority effort to provide “more positive programs and places for teens.” Read more here: http://www.lynchburgva.gov/sites/default/files/COLFILES/Parks-Recreation/Documents/Fairview%20Neighborhood%20Meeting%20Next%20Steps%20July_Final.pdf
The Lynchburg Parks and Recreation partnered with Lynchburg Police Department and Lynchburg City Schools to develop and promote the league to at-risk and central city youth. All partners contributed resources to ensure the league was free and that lack of funds would not be a barrier to participation. Lynchburg City School Superintendent, Scott Brabrand, key player at the community meetings was instrumental in publicizing the basketball league opportunity in the schools.
The Lynchburg Police Chief Raul Diaz along with his brand new Community Action Team lead discussions at the community meetings and took a lead role in developing the inaugural league. The Parks and Recreation Director led the Fairview meetings flanked by park service, recreation service and neighborhood center staff. She tapped the Neighborhood Centers Coordinator, Charlotte Lester to assign a department representative to collaborate with the Police’s CAT group to organize and oversee the summer basketball league.
The 2016 league kicked off with many businesses and churches contributing resources to provide meals and snacks for the players after each game. Over 70 teens participated in the league. It was an incredible success providing a “positive program and place” for teens to play in a safe and supportive environment. Many police served as game referees and were able to establish beneficial relationships with the kids over the 6 week program. The league culminated in an All-Star Game and cook-out. The Park and Recreation Director, the Chief of Police and the Superintendent of Schools cooked hotdogs and supported the players. The Parks and Recreation Department unveiled the newly installed outdoor sport lighting at the basketball courts. The new lights, a monumental achievement, sent the message that teens matter and investments were going to be made in providing places to play year-round, beyond dawn to dusk.
The Hill City Hoops Program satisfied both social equity and health and wellness pillars of parks and recreation. Today, over 160 teens play on 16 teams on the league. Hill City Hoops program has double since the inaugural season. This year, City organizers were able to get team benches, an officials table and numbered pennies for the program. They were also able to feed the participants through the LCS summer feeding program. The highlight for the program has been the fact that they were able to get 8 businesses to sponsor game nights. They also filled all 16 rosters across three age groupings. Tereika Grooms, league organizer said, “I’m just glad to be able to allow the kids an opportunity to do something positive during the summer. “
The Hill City Hoops participants just finished participating in the Virginia Commonwealth Games. Tereika Grooms, league organizer and senior recreation specialist said this about the experience, “They truly enjoyed every bit of it, from having jerseys to being able to play against fellow friends and even having transportation to their games. They are already asking if they can do it next year! “
The success of Hill City Hoops was truly a community effort. The program addressed a gap in services and spoke to our department mission. It goes to show what a community can do when we rally around our youth and provide them with positive recreation outlets. We are proud of this very unique league as a winner for Best New Program. Thank you to partners Lynchburg Police Department and Lynchburg City Schools, Robert Flood and many individuals and organizations that chipped in to make Lynchburg a great place to play and make Hill City Hoops as the Best New Program.
I have included some of the news articles about the program catalyst, shooting at Younger Park.