Having A Ball

July 01, 2005|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,SUN STAFF

The way people flock to Lorenzo Plater with $1 bills in hand each day at Cloverdale Playground, you would think he owned an ice cream truck.

Instead, in return for the cash, the Cloverdale/Baltimore Basketball Association commissioner doles out brightly colored rental jerseys. Players of all ages scoop them up and go away eager to contribute to the flavor of the playground's summer basketball league.

You can catch a pickup game year-round at the playground just across from Druid Hill Park in Reservoir Hill, a venue known for drawing top local basketball talent.

But in the summertime, Cloverdale is best known for its community-oriented basketball. The tiny playground bordered by high-traffic streets transforms into the area's most popular meeting place, with league play and camps commencing against a backdrop of a neighborhood barbecue.

They call this summer basketball experience the City Game. Now in its 25th year, it is to its participants what Little League baseball is to the suburbs.

"The idea of the City Game, for me, is not just for kids to be playing basketball, but the unity that comes together within our community," says Plater, 72, a retired drug addiction counselor. "This is what our community needs."

The program features three league games each night, with players ranging from under 10 to under 50. In a city of discrete neighborhoods, the participants arrive from communities all across town. Past participants include Carmelo Anthony and Sam Cassell of the NBA.

The action is fast-paced and physical. Players draw raves from onlookers for high-degree-of-difficulty baskets and heckling for ill-advised attempts. The games are popular with teenagers; often younger players add a little flair to their moves to impress admirers in the stands.

On Saturday mornings, the games give way to a basketball camp; 120 youngsters learn skills in a session that runs May through July and costs just $15.

Parents, though, also pay another way: Involvement is mandatory. Those with children in games or camp drop them off, then get to work firing up grills for hot dogs and hamburgers. Others work the concessions, selling candy, soft drinks and sno-balls with such flavors as spearmint, Tutti Fruiti and 50 Cent.

"There's something to do for everybody, play a little ball, get a little exercise in," said Edward Johnson, 47, of Baltimore, as he watched a recent game. "And it's peaceful to just sit down and watch some games and enjoy."

On game nights, families turn out and settle in to watch on blankets and lawn chairs. They bask under bright floodlights that give each game the feel of a championship event.

All this despite no corporate sponsorship. And except for game officials, everyone volunteers.

"We want people to know that if there's anything we need, we can depend on each other," says Plater.

To read previous stories in this series, go online to baltimoresun.com/places.

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