Ted Garcia lives to play basketball. The 17-year-old, who came from a small town outside of Manila two years ago, said once he and his friends were so desperate to play that they nailed a hoop to a tree in his backyard.
On the tough streets around his new home at 5th and Hoover streets, he said, safe courts are hard to come by.
“Basically, it’s gangs around here and most of the gangs are territorial,” he said. “Everywhere, there’s drinking and drugs.”
Three months ago, he was playing at Lafayette Park in the Westlake District. “One of the people playing with us was like, ‘Time out,’ and he walked to this bench where there were people who were hanging out and had marijuana,” Garcia said. “So he took a hit and he started playing again.”
Garcia said he just wants to live a clean life, play ball and work on his grades. He intends to go to college, though he’s not sure if he will be aiming for Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., or Marquette University in Milwaukee.
So when Garcia’s friends told him about Temple Gateway Youth Sports League, the Belmont High School junior said, he was elated.
“It was fun because I got to hang out with my homeboys,” he said. “We got to play too. We just like playing.”
Since 1999, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, a Filipinotown community group, has organized the youth sports league.
“We hold this every year for kids that basically have nothing to do,” said youth activities specialist Alvin Terre. “A lot of kids just hang out on corners. That’s what they see and that’s what they’ve known.”
While most of the participants are Filipino, league officials said they encourage youngsters to bring friends of all races.
Right now, the league runs only a slate of boys’ basketball games and practices in the fall. But it is working on expanding its options. The Times contributed $15,000 to the program’s $21,000 budget.
Last year, said league officials, about 60 teenagers played on six teams they created themselves. Parents often volunteered to coach.
“A lot of these kids just play street ball and have no team experience,” Terre said. “This gives them discipline.”
A couple of youngsters who started working at SIPA after the league got to apply some of the lessons learned on the basketball court, he said. “Playing the game teaches you to take pride in what you’re doing and following directions,” Terre said.
In their work conducting interviews with local politicians and community members about Filipinotown issues, they displayed poise and initiative, he said.
Terre said he has been impressed by their on-court play too. “Basketball is one of the main sports in the Philippines,” he said.
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