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Wilmington’s East Side Silk basketball league is back home at Kirkwood Park.
A few years ago, the courts there were converted to tennis and the league was forced to venues on the other side of Wilmington.
Founder Jaron “Droop” Johnson says kids in the area just don’t flock to tennis the way they gravitate towards basketball.
So, he’s excited to bring the league back to its home court, and says he’s proud to see the league drawing kids from elsewhere in New Castle County.
“Now that we can come back home to where we started, this is a blessing to come back home,” Johnson said. “By bringing this league back, we’re noticing the friendships and bonds are starting to build across bridges, across towns. That ‘where I’m from’ notion is going to the left now, so with that going to the left now we just have to be doing our part.”
The league was started by Johnson to honor his friend Terry “Silk” Alls who died in a car crash in 2003.
“We were sitting around and seeing the kids in the community go astray,” he said. “We thought of a way we could give back and it started out with just four kids in the park doing basketball drills every Saturday and then over the weeks our crowd grew and grew.”
The Silk project launched in 2009, then became an official basketball league in 2011. It now includes over 300 kids. Johnson and a crew of 25 volunteers hold practices and organize games on Saturdays.
Wilmington’s Parks and Recreation Department deputy director Shawn Allen says the tennis project didn’t get the resources needed to be successful. He hopes they get it right with the Silk league – providing funding for basketballs, t-shirts, trophies and more.
“You have to add resources with it,” Allen said. “Which means if you put a tennis court here, you have to add resources like racquets, tennis balls. If you put them in urban neighborhoods and individuals don’t have the funds to get these resources to play the game, then the process becomes unutilized.”
Both Johnson and Allen grew up in the neighborhood and the park – Johnson said his mom would have to call him home after shooting hoops from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. And Allen spent the night in the park as a homeless 16-year-old. He says the park served as a safe haven when he was young, and is excited to see play a similar role now.
The Mayor’s Classic tournament – featuring different teams of the Silk league – will be held on the court next Saturday at 10 a.m.
Johnson teamed up with his former coach to create a non-profit Delaware Lifeball. He says they just received their 501(c)3 status, and are excited to start forming partnerships with other groups in the city.
In the next two to three years, he hopes to provide SAT prep, study halls and college tours for the kids in the league.