The address of the Woodson recreation center was incorrectly reported in Sunday's editions. The center is located at 56th and Eads streets NE.
They were playing full-court fives on a recent night at the Woodson Recreation Center gym, more than 200 little Big E's and Dr. J's scoopin' and swoopin', working on a basketball high.
Nineteen-year-old Larry Bush sat back against the wooden bleachers, waiting to get into a game. He comes to the center every night after learning to be a plasterer all day. "It's nice here, man. You can get away. There ain't no worries here, ain't no problems. There's just the ball and the basket and something to do with your time."
More than 500 people like to come the city's recreation center at Woodson High School each day. They say they like it here, that it's a place to go to let off a little steam at the end of the day.
But they may not be able to come much longer.Woodson is one of 21 recreation centers in the District that may be closed to keep the city from running up a budget deficit as high as $172.4 million.
The Woodson center -- along with cernters at Nalle Elementary and Southsa Junior High -- were the Ward 7 facilities, targeted for closing by D.C. Recreation Director William Rumsey.
Rumsey said he singled out centers that had low daily usage figures and that were within a mile of another center. By closing some centers and reducing hours at others, and limiting the outdoor poolseason, hopes to save an estimated $1.4 million.
But that doesn't mean much to Bush. "I don't know nothing about no budget," he says. "We just don't want to lose our center. You can't really go to the other ones because people in this area don't get along with people in the others. I guess they just want us hanging around the corner."
John Womble, the center's supervisor, agrees. "If you think you have crime now, close this center and you would have crime like you've never seen before."
The Woodson center has been housed in the nine-story concrete-and-glass high school on Minnesota Avenue and Foote Street in far Northeast since 1971. Surrounding the futuristic school are three government housing projects and a section of low-income housing where blue-collar workers live. It is an area that is high on crime and low on hope, where life is paced by liquor and drugs and welfare checks.
So many of the residents see the center as somthing of a godsend, a kind of oasis where kids can go for attention, activity and guidance. And its employes say it is by far the nicest of the 19 recreation centers in Ward 7, with a large gym, good track and field facilities and a 25-yard indoor swimming pool.
Neighborhood residents, many of them males, between 15 and 22, use the center each day from 4 to 9 p.m., playing basketballl, table tennis, and pool and taking classes in swimming, cooking and arts and crafts. Shows are staged in the school's auditorium and lectures are held on drug abuse and other social problems.
Womble sees the center as a place where kids can escape the pressures of low-income lives and inner-city struggles.
"Each kid is a crime waiting to happen. The environment they live in keeps them tense. They're left at home alone while their parents work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. They lack the control they need.
"Whenever the center is closed for a few days for the holidays, you come back and you notice the kids have new scars and bandages. They need an outlet for their aggressions.
"You have to ask, how much is a kid worth."
As Womble spoke, Roberta Clark, a 23-year-old recreation worker, was making green-and-white yarn pompons for the center's cheerleading team.
"It's gonna be awful, real awful, if they close this center down," she said. "The closest to here is Evans Junior High on East Capitol Street. sThe kids don't want to be walking all the way down there at night.
"The kids won't understand if the center closes. It's important to them. It's like home. They come here for the attention and activity they need.
"I'm not worried about my job -- I'm pretty sure they'll just transfer us somewhere else. But you can't transfer kids. They'll be hurt."
In the Ping Pong and pool room, Lawanda Lancaster and Shawna Knox, 16-year-old varsity cheerleaders for Woodson High, were putting pint-sized cheerleaders through their paces, preparing them for a competition later this month.
Lancaster volunteers of few hours a day teaching the girls. "I've been coming here since I was in second grade," she said. "I got a lot out of this place, I figured it was time to give something back.
"If the center goes, a lot of kids will be out on the corner, headed for nowhere but trouble."
Outside in the parking lot, under a street light, three boys in their early teens huddled close together, smoking a joint of marijuana.
One of them, a little guy with the beginning of a moustache, said he never goes inside the center. "Who needs that s--- when you got herb, man."