The parking lot, normally full of cars, was empty. A few well-worn cigarette butts littered the cracks of the sidewalk. A newspaper box near the front doors contained two-day-old newspapers. Those doors were now locked. And inside, behind the tinted windows, the courts were dark.
The Run N' Shoot Athletic Center used to be a popular hangout for Prince George's County teenagers -- and basketball players from across the Washington area. This month, however, the gym on Marlboro Pike in District Heights turned out the lights because of financial problems, according to former employees, and now many are wondering whether teenagers will spend their free time getting into trouble instead of hitting one of the facility's 10 courts or its weight room.
In better times, Devon Mays watches a game at the Run N' Shoot Athletic Center. He says crime helped bring it down.
(2003 Photo Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
"This is devastating," said Rico Reed, the boys' basketball coach at Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, whose team won a state title last weekend. "There isn't a teenager in this area that hasn't visited Run N' Shoot for something. That is going to have a huge impact on the community, a negative impact. Where do these guys go? Hopefully, the rec centers. That was the meeting place, the place for those kids to go play for hours at a time in what was a safe haven."
Said Devon Mays, who worked as Run N' Shoot's assistant manager: "A lot of parents are like: 'What are we supposed to do now? What are the kids supposed to do now?' I don't have an answer."
It is far different from when the gym opened in July 1999, quickly turning an empty department store into a destination. In an area where basketball is the sport of choice, the courts were immaculate, with glass backboards and wooden floors. The weight room and fitness equipment attracted middle-aged women. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the 133,000-square-foot gym was an "anytime, any day place," as Suitland High basketball and football player Navorro Bowman said.
During its existence, the gym was the home court for two minor league basketball teams -- the Washington Congressionals and Maryland Nighthawks. Banners still hang over the entrance commemorating the state title and regional titles won, respectively, by the Oxon Hill High boys' and girls' basketball teams when they used the gym as their home court in the 2002-03 season.
NBA players, college stars, high school players. Children and adults. Everyone and anyone played at the Run N' Shoot. Monthly memberships were available, but most customers paid by the visit: $8 for adults, $4 for students.
"Let's say at 11 o'clock some guys decided, 'Let's go shoot some ball,' " said community activist Arthur Turner, who also chairs the county Chamber of Commerce's economic development committee. "That was a good thing. Consider the alternative. There could have been an actual shooting going on. I'd rather have people shoot a basketball than bullets."
Former employees said the gym began to lose money and fell into disrepair in recent months. According to Mays, there were problems with car thefts and break-ins in the parking lot. With concerns about safety, business dropped. Fitness equipment went unfixed and was left dirty, Mays and others said, forcing users to clean things themselves.
"The cardio equipment went bad, so women stopped coming in to work out," said Willie Diggs, who worked as a front desk employee the past few months. "Anybody with real money started to go other places. Then it was just basketball. That wasn't enough to pay rent and to make a profit."
Attempts to reach Run N' Shoot management were unsuccessful, but Mays said rent had not been paid for several months before the doors were shut for good the morning of March 11. Riverdale Baptist School senior Kenny Burkes, whose team was playing in a tournament in Tennessee last weekend, said he knew within a few hours. Suitland junior Jerome Barnes also said it took little time for word to spread through his school's hallways.
"Now that it's closed, the crime rate is going to go up," Barnes said, noting that he and his teammates went to the Run N' Shoot nearly every day. "Since it's closed, we don't have anything to do except hang around school or go home."
Craig Muckle, who chairs the Chamber of Commerce's public safety committee, said: "Anytime kids are not really occupied in a productive way, it does leave the door open for something to happen. That's not to suggest that kids are troublemakers, but we have to make sure there are activities young people can focus on."