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Evening programs at school gyms target youth violence

Date: 2/7/2011

Feb. 7, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — The opening of two elementary school gyms for an evening basketball program is one effort to give participating youth a positive activity in the dead of winter.

Mayor Domenic Sarno announced the evening gym program last week.

Sarno said, "For several weeks, our Youth Violence Prevention Task Force, Mass in Motion of the Health and Human Service Department, Springfield's Parks and Recreation Division and my office worked to meet a critical need for our city's youth — a safe place to go [in the] evenings for recreation and building friendships. Funding seemed an obstacle until Health New England (HNE), one of our city's generous community partners, stepped up and made a donation so that both Milton Bradley and the Edward P. Boland Schools could open their doors to our youth."

The $10,000 grant from H N E will fund the program at the two schools through April 15.

Paula Thayer, assistant director of recreation of the Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, told Reminder Publications the city has had a long history — going back to at least 1979 — of opening school gyms for evening programs. She said that in the past, as many as 19 gyms were open, but lack of funding and the rental of school gyms by various athletic programs have decreased the number of sites for the city program.

Four sites were opened last year and these two schools were selected because they had no outdoor basketball courts. She explained in past years, neighborhood youth would clear outdoor basketball courts and use them.

Randy Piteo, the after school coordinator for the department, said the participating youth have to be ready and dressed appropriately to play basketball.

"They just can't hang out," he added. Adults supervise the program.

Piteo said the courts at the two schools are divided so a maximum number of students can play at any one time.

Thayer said registration is necessary to ensure safety and parental approval as well as to collect information on the number of participants, their age and how frequently they attend the program.

Registration is ongoing at the two schools. Youth between the ages of 11 and 18 are eligible to participate. The hours and days of operation are as follows:

• Milton Bradley School, 22 Mulberry St.; Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

• Boland School, 426 Armory St.; Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Thayer said the department is still seeking one more gym to open this year.

For more information on the program, call 750-2711 or 750-2652.

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