A fresh start for Cleveland’s rising basketball stars
The way Coach Jeffry Lee sees it, at least one good thing came of the old basketball court at Lakeview Terrace: “It used to be all un-level, with big chuck-holes everywhere,” he says. “I figure those chuckholes make my kids dribble better. They constantly had to know how to dribble and know where the holes are, so they really learn how to move the ball.”
Lee—who’s known around his neighborhood as “Coach Shorty”—is the volunteer head coach of the Lakeview Terrace Wildcats, a basketball club for kids aged 7 to 18 growing up in this Cleveland public housing community. He’ll tell you all about the club’s winning record and big ambitions: “Last season we went to four championship games, and we won three of them. This year we’re trying to go four for four.” But his real mission goes way beyond the scoreboard.
“By starting this team, I felt as though many of our youth needed some mentorship,” he says. “By living at Lakeview Terrace, many of our youth are from single-parented households. Their parents work hard, but if these kids can’t get something they need from their mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, or aunty, they can always come to me.”
Basketball teaches lessons on teamwork and respect, Coach Shorty says—and by getting kids together for games, he’s creating opportunities for families from different buildings to get to know each other. “We all live down here together. I’m trying to get everybody to interact with each other—that’s my goal.”
Ball-handling benefits notwithstanding, the outdoor spaces around Lakeview Terrace have long been in need of a little T.L.C. Beyond the holes on the basketball court, the neighborhood—which opened in 1935 as one of the nation’s first public housing projects—doesn’t have enough trees to keep people cool on hot summer days, and residents say its playgrounds and outdoor areas feel derelict and unwelcoming.
We’ve been working alongside the Lakeview Terrace community to change that. We’ve helped plant trees to shade sidewalks between buildings, and with strong support from L.L.Bean, we’ve organized a series of meetings to bring residents together with artists, planners, and design experts to envision changes to their outdoor spaces, including fresh pavement for the surface of the Wildcats’ home court. “Every decision has been made hand-in-hand with the people who live at Lakeview Terrace and will use these spaces every day,” says Shanelle Smith Whigham, Ohio State Director at The Trust for Public Land.
We’re proud to partner with L.L.Bean to help Lakeview Terrace residents make the most of their public space. Meet a few locals and hear why people of all ages are coming together around parks!
These upgrades are especially important because Lakeview Terrace, Smith Whigham explains, is cut off from the rest of Cleveland by a dense tangle of freeways and railroads. “That isolation is a result of decades of investment and decisions being made by people in power, without taking the community’s concerns into account,” Smith Whigham says. “Ohio City, the neighborhood surrounding the development, is undergoing lots of change and economic growth right now, but it’s hard for Lakeview Terrace residents to just get there and feel like they have a stake in that opportunity.”
Organizing residents to plan changes to their outdoor spaces has benefits beyond the court, Smith Whigham says. “The process of community engagement is getting people together to make decisions about their shared future,” she says. “That’s powerful.”
Coach Shorty agrees. “Through this basketball team, I’m just trying to get everybody to interact with each other and realize that we all live down here together,” he says. “That’s my big goal: Let everybody know each other.” So he and his Wildcats got together to help Glen Infante, an up-and-coming Cleveland artist, design a vibrant mural for the surface of their freshly re-paved court, which debuted last fall. “The kids of Lakeview really appreciate the court, because we always needed something like that down there,” Shorty says.
“There are big chuck-holes on the court no more!” Shorty says. “Everything is level. It makes a big difference.” Every time he passes the court, he sees six or seven kids out running around, and notices their parents getting together to watch, and get to know each other while they keep an eye on their kids through the fence. Now that the court’s fixed up, he wants to get more seating around the edge for parents to watch practice and games, and has been thinking about making the push for lights on the court so games don’t have to end by sundown.
“By this court getting fixed up, and more kids coming out to play ball, I feel as though these Wildcats can’t do nothing but get greater,” Coach Shorty says. As the Wildcats look ahead to their next championship season, he has just one message for you: “Who ‘dat say they gonna beat these ‘Cats?”
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