Along the fence, food cooks on a family-size grill. Vendors walk between the steel bleachers, selling Gatorade, water and frozen snowballs for relief from the relentless sun.
“Oh yeah, that’s my team,” one kid shouts and points as Face Mob and the DMV Hoopers approach center court for tipoff.
It’s another summer evening of basketball on the crown jewel of the Barry Farm Dwellings, a fenced court in the Southeast Washington community where George Goodman Basketball League games are played.
The Goodman league, in its 36th year, features pros, street ball legends, college players and neighborhood talent. It is also the one place in the housing project, located in one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods, where an informal truce is strictly observed.
“This is where you come and get a peace of mind,” said Curtis Howard, who grew up in the Parkchester apartments, a block from the court, and played in the league growing up. “One thing you won’t see is no drama. They don’t bring it here. People look forward to the summer coming around just for this league. It’s the best thing that’s happened to Barry Farm.”
In the 19th century, “The Farm” was a tobacco plantation before it became a community for freed slaves. Today, the court’s 12-foot fences surround one of the few places where the neighborhood’s 2,729 residents can escape the harsh realities of life. The court was refurbished not long ago with a $50,000 donation from Nike.
A reduction in crime
Neighborhood leaders believe the league’s two-month schedule helps reduce crime during the summer. Over the last year, according to police, 165 crimes — from car thefts to assaults with deadly weapons — have been reported within 1,000 feet of the basketball court. No crimes have been reported within 100 feet of the court over the same time period.
On a hot June evening, six police officers in bulletproof vests huddle in the alley that divides the neighborhood’s worn duplexes from the court. Large orange traffic cones block the alley off Firth Sterling Avenue.
One of the poorest neighborhoods in D.C., with a median household income of $18,500, Barry Farm hosts basketball stars — from Kevin Durant to Gilbert Arenas to AND 1 streetball favorite Hugh “Baby Shaq” Jones — at no cost to the public. During the games, it is a place where Arenas, the former Washington Wizards star, could park his Maybach at the end of the alley and walk 20 paces to the court. No posse. Just Arenas and the Barry Farm community.
Eighteen teams are competing for the league title this summer. Professional players who show up for a game or two are assigned to a team by Commissioner Miles Rawls, based on what he believes will provide an even matchup.
The pros and others stick around the court afterwards for a postgame meal with local residents or to sign autographs, briefly acting as male role models for young boys and men in a community where 74 percent of the households are headed by women.