City courts solution to hoops-cemetery issue

Published 12:30 pm Thursday, August 26, 2010

Contributing Editor

As Washington’s City Council considers what to do with a basketball court adjacent to the city-owned Oakdale Cemetery, a public hearing on the issue could be in the offing.
The question before the council is whether to remove the basketball court, relocate it or find a way for it to stay where it is at, a way that does not disrespect the dead.
During the council’s meeting Monday, it became clear some people have complained about basketball games being played as funeral processions pass by the basketball court, which is between West 15th Street and the cemetery. It also became clear during that meeting that others believe the basketball court and cemetery can co-exist peacefully.
The basketball court has been a fixture next to the cemetery for several decades. According to several people who spoke in favor of keeping the basketball court at its current location, the 15 Street basketball court has a reputation up and down the East Coast as being a place where top-level basketball is played.
Mickey Cochran, a Washington resident, discussed his concerns about players using the basketball court as funeral processions pass by them and during funerals in the cemetery.
“It’s a matter of respect,” Cochran told the council.
Cochran said it was “unwise” of the city to place a recreation area in such close proximity to the cemetery.
As for a proposal to place signs at the basketball court to remind players to show respect as funeral processions pass by or during funerals at the cemetery, Cochran said that suggestion is not a solution. Cochran said erecting a neon sign at the basketball court would not work.
Cochran suggested the basketball court be relocated to Havens Gardens, where there is a restroom and plenty of parking.
Most of those who spoke in favor of keeping the basketball court next to the cemetery indicated that a form of self-policing could be the answer. Some of the speakers, acknowledging they often played on the basketball court in their younger days, said it is incumbent on them and other veterans of that basketball court to instill in today’s players a sense of respect for activities in the cemetery.
“I remember myself out there a lot,” Tyrone Wilson told the council.
He recalled that players would stop playing as a funeral procession passed by or when a funeral took place close by in the cemetery.
“Times have changed,” Wilson said.
Removing the basketball court should not be an option, he said, saying it is a place where “legends were made.”
“That’s really, truly a historic place,” Wilson said.
Former Washington High School and NBA legend Dominique Wilkins once played there. Other great college and NBA players have played there. So did a city employee.
“I learned to play out there. I still play out there, when my body lets me,” said William Conner, who maintains City Hall.
Conner said it’s “up to us (older players) to teach the younger crowd” to show respect for the dead and their families.
One possible solution that was briefly discussed was erecting a barrier between the cemetery and basketball court, a barrier that would help block noise generated at the basketball court from reaching the cemetery.
The council asked for the city’s Recreation Advisory Committee to investigate the matter and suggest possible solutions. It also indicated the issue could warrant a public hearing so the public could weigh in on the matter.