WATTS : Clippers to Assist L.A.'s Ball Courts

The Los Angeles Clippers and Arco Products Co., which operates AM / PM mini-markets, have chosen the 109th Street Recreation Center as the first of 21 recreation sites in Los Angeles to receive new basketball equipment.

The center's outdoor basketball court will be extended and resurfaced, and the rims and backboards will be replaced, said Michael J. Williams, Clippers vice president of public relations. Details of the $500,000 program will be unveiled at an Oct. 22 press conference at the center.

Williams said the program will include basketball clinics taught by Clippers players, an expansion of the city's youth basketball leagues with April playoffs, and an educational program with free videotapes emphasizing anti-drug, stay-in-school messages. The first basketball clinic will take place after the press conference.

"What happened last spring was a sign that we had to get more involved in the community," Williams told about 15 residents during a meeting last week at the center. "The goal is to become involved at the grass-roots level and to become better friends with the community."

Church and community leaders have been working for more than a year to improve the center and reclaim it from gangs. The site now offers a boxing program, anti-drug classes, aerobics and other activities.

The community focused much of its efforts on a petition drive to name the center's community building after former Lynwood High basketball star Earnest Killum Jr., who died in January at age 20 after suffering two strokes.

Along with other area churches and businesses, the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church gathered more than 3,500 signatures to name the building after Killum, who was attending Oregon State University at the time of his death.

The petition was presented to Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores' office and to the city Parks and Recreation Commission, and in late August the building was named after Killum. "I never saw the community agree on anything so quickly," said Loraine Tunstalle, the center's director. "Everyone loved Earnest. This park has been given back to the community."

Killum's mother, Thelma Lillard, praised the Clippers and Arco for their new program.

"Maybe something like this will bring (youths) in off the streets," she said. "It is something very positive for our young children. It will make better people out of them."

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