One basketball hoop is lowered for young kids. A normal hoop, on the other side of the court, holds the focus of older teens and adults. The outdoor basketball court is just off Highway 304 in Mesic. If it were in a gym, it would be loud with sneakers squeaking and calls for the ball. But here, the sound disappears into the surrounding trees.
The court stands behind a boarded-up Rosenwald School—one of two in the county created in the early 1900s as a collaboration between Booker T. Washington, an educator and philanthropist who was president of the Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. The schools were created to educate Black children living in the rural South in the years of segregation.
While mosquitos swarm us, I ask Taquan Jones, 30, the organizer of Youth Navigating Towards Opportunity (YNTO), if there is a swamp behind the trees. (YNTO is the nonprofit responsible for the new court.)
“I think swampland is all we have around here,” he replies, sweat dripping down his face as he grills hot dogs and hamburgers on a charcoal grill. More cars pull up, including a four-wheeler with flames painted on the side. He smiles and greets each person by name, young and old.
“This parking lot will be full in an hour, though most people carpool. It’s the only thing we have on this end of the county—for Water Street, Maribel, Mesic,” Taquan says as he turns back to me.
On a phone-controlled speaker, he sets the music to “old school playlist.” The song “Back to Life” by Soul II Soul starts to play.
“Everybody out there I’ve seen grow up,” he says as he looks at the court. “This is how it was growing up, everybody knows. Come down for free food and hang Sunday evenings."
” The original court fell into disrepair, much like the Rosenwald School that made it popular. “It wasn’t safe,” says Taquan.
YNTO applied for and won a grant for the new basketball court.
“We fought for this,” he says. “It cost about $36,000. The community installed it themselves. They dug four feet down, poured concrete, and erected the posts.”
“We really came together. They were out here struggling for it. Those posts are 900 pounds each,” he says as two of his kids, Taquan, 5, and Tiana, 2, inspect the cooler next to him, looking for ice cubes.
“Technically, we aren’t finished. We are still waiting on the bleachers; then we will have the grand opening,” he continues.
The court is full until it is too dark to play. There are no working lights; no playing after dark is the town rule.
“I hope one day we could change that. Night tournaments, night games,” he says as the players take a break for food.
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