Basketball court debate continues

Published 4:12 pm Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Contributing Editor

The debate over the basketball court adjacent to Oakdale Cemetery heated up again at the Washington City Council’s meeting Monday.
The issue surface at the council’s Aug. 23 meeting when Mickey Cochran, a former Beaufort County commissioner, called for the basketball court to be shut down and a new one built at Havens Gardens. At that meeting, Cochran 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.
Others have complained about basketball games being played as funeral processions pass by the basketball court, which is between West 15th Street and the cemetery.
Cochran renewed his complaint Monday, again telling the council that putting the basketball court next to the cemetery was a mistake.
“It’s a correctable mistake,” Cochran said, adding that it is inappropriate to have recreational facilities at the cemetery.
Cochran suggested the basketball court be shut down and a new “quality court” be built at Havens Gardens. He recommended the new basketball court have lights so games could be played at night.
During his remarks, someone in the audience began responding to Cochran’s statements, but Mayor Archie Jennings used his gavel to silence the interruption. Jennings said he intended to maintain order during remarks concerning the matter.
William Conner, who at the Aug. 23 meeting defended keeping the basketball court next to the cemetery, renewed that defense Monday.
“I can believe this whole basketball court thing has gotten this far,” Conner said, adding that the council has more important things to address.
Conner said many of the players who use the basketball court, including himself, do not want to play elsewhere in the city.
The basketball court has been a fixture next to the cemetery for several decades. According to several people who attended the Aug. 23 meeting and 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.
Conner said all types of people — whites, blacks, Mexicans and others — play together at the 15th Street basketball court and play together without problems.
“It’s neutral ground. It’s safe,” Conner said.
As he did at the Aug. 23 meeting, Conner said it’s up to the veteran players at the basketball court to teach the younger players the need to show respect for the dead and their families.
Conner said problems at the cemetery are not caused by the basketball players.
Conner presented the council with a petition bearing about 300 names of people, including some from Florida, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., who oppose shutting down the 15th Street basketball court.
“Anything that brings a community together should stay there,” Conner said.
Renata Brown also spoke in favor of keeping the 15th Street basketball court open.
“That facility has been there since before I was born,” she said.
Brown wanted to know “what’s the point of closing” the basketball court.
Carnell Williams, owner of Ruff Kutz, also supports leaving the basketball court in place. Williams said he’s played there about 35 years.
Jennings reminded the speakers and audience the city’s Recreation Advisory Committee will discuss the matter during its meeting Monday. The committee meets at 5:30 p.m. at the Department of Parks and Recreation’s main offices in the Peterson Building, 310 W. Main St.
The council asked the 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.
For additional coverage of the council’s meeting, see future editions of the Daily News.