For the last year or so, a sheaf of blueprints has hung on the west wall of Fairfax County's Braddock Recreation Center. The sketches show a proposed $375,000 replacement for the one-room recreation center. But the blueprint on top shows the meat and potatoes: a new gymnasium.
To judge by the drawings, it would be a nice-looking gym, with a jogging track and at least five basketball backboards. And there is no question about how the regulars at the Braddock center feel about it.
Right above the blueprint, someone has hung a sign, hand-lettered in big block capitals: "HOPE FOR THE FUTURE."
The sign draws snorts of cynical laughter these days from the teen-agers and young adults who spend most of their afternoons at the center.
"Hope for the future? scoffed 17-year-old Greg Robinson. "Yeah, we're doing a lot of hoping, man. That's about all we're doing.
"Let me tell you, hey, give it up - we ain't gettin' no gym around here."
Indeed, it may be years before the community of Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy, about eight miles west of the Beltway on Braddock Road, sees a gym. Or it may be never.
The immediate reason in that none of the 169 homes in this lower middle class, largely rural, largely black neighborhood has running water, indoor plumbing or sewer service.
As a result, the Fairfax County health department will not issue a building permit for a new community center before water and sewer service is provided for the community. And Martin Crahan, assistant director of the county Department of Housing and Community Development, says that is at least a year away.
Money for the gym was to come from federal Community Development Block Grant funds, issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Thos funds were to be supplemented by county money.
But in the three years since Fairfax officials agreed to build a new community center with a gym, inflation has nibbled away at what the money can buy.
The bottom line is that the neighborhood will get a new community center as soon as a sewer is built. But to include the gym that is in the original blueprints would cost $150,000 more than officials have to spend.
So the planned gym has been scaled down. Present plan called for a multi-purpose room, 30 feet by 40 feet, essentially half a basketball court.
A room that size will do fine for 4-H Club meetings and classes for the elderly, but it doesn't come anywhere near the size of a regulation, 94-feet by 50 feet basketball court. As Sonny Metcalfe, the 28-year-old assistant director of the recreation center, notes: "There is no way you can play basketball in a space like that."
But how important can basketball be, anyway?
In Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy, the answer is: very.
For one thing, in a quirk of nature, about 190 of the 700 people who live in the community are males between the ages of 14 and 21.
"Basketball is what these guys live for," say Metclafe. "A lot of them have a bitterness, a hostility, and they can come play basketball and let it out. . . . Besides, if they have a place to play, it's like the old saying: it keeps them off the streets."
The present court consists of two outdoor hoops, over a piece of asphalt 20 yards from the one-room, aluminum-sided recreation center.
"But we got to give the little dudes and the kids one basket all the time; those are the rules," said Charles Henry Trammel Jr., a 19-year-old welder with a deadeye jump shot who estimates he plays basketball at Braddock "about eight days a week."
"So that means all we can ever play is a half-court game," says Trammel. "And four, five months a year, it gets cold out there."
So Trammel and his "walk-partners" often drive or hitchhike to the indoor gym at George Mason University (approximately 3 miles away) or the county-built courts at Burke Center (about 4 miles) to rustle up a game.
And sometimes young men from the neighborhood "rustle up a little something else," says Metcalfe. "Like trouble."
Indeed, trouble is often the flip side of basketball among the community's young men.
For instance, a 77-year-old neighborhood resident, Charlie Lee, was beaten allegedly by four young men from the area who had known him all their lives.
The four allegedly stole $90 from Lee -- which represented not only Lee's monthly Social Security check but all the money he had in the world.
The young men were arrested the next day, and according to several sources in the community, one was asked why they had done it.
He is said to have replied: "Because we didn't have a place to play basketball."
Unlikely as such a story may sound to outsiders, community youths who hear it nod in recognition.
"Sure, I can understand it," said 21-year-old Andre Trammel, Charles' brother. "Most times, their parents are drinking and down on them. If they can't play ball, they get frustrated."
Frustration has long been an everyday reality in Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy.
First settled before the Revolutionary War, the two-mile-square area is a collection of one-acre lots, most of them wooded, most of them on rolling hills. Many residents live on land that has been in the family for 10 generations. Intermarriage has long been common.
But some residents point out that where most communities can blame county officials for such disappointments as the lack of a gym, the community itself has to share part of the blame.
Jim Mott, president of the civic assocation for 13 of the last 15 years, says water and sewer have been so long in coming to the area because "I have never seen a more apathetic and indifferent bunch of people.
"A lot of them can't read and write. A lot of them don't know any more than it takes to go to the store and back. How can you expect the Board of Supervisors to listen to people like that?"
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the board didn't listen. Sewers were finally approved for Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy five years ago. The $1.6 million to build them was to come from block grunt funds, matched with county funds.
But according to Crahan, only about $200,000 has been spent, almost all of it on preliminary engineering studies.
Why the delay?
"The state health department delayed us for 2 1/2 years because the system we want to put in there has never been used in the state before," Crahan said. w
Fairfax County Supervisor Marie B. Travesky, whose district includes Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy, is skeptical about how hard Crahan's office worked to speed the sewer along.
"They wouldn't wait for 2 1/2 years for very many other projects," she said. "Why weren't they on the phone every week, nudging them?"
But adjusting to a sewer may not prove simple in Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy.
The present community center has a self-contained waste treatment system in which waste water is purified and reused. But according to Metcalfe, many of the youths who use the bathrooms at the community center don't flush the toliets after they use them.
"They don't know how," he explained. "A lot of them have never used one (a flush toliet) before."
Meanwhile, trash and junk -- much of it abandonend auto bodies -- is scattered throughout Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy. According to Travesky, many of the hulks are dumped there by dealers from elsewhere in the county so they can escape a landfill fee.
"I guess they figure the people in Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy won't object," said Travesky, as she shook her head.
Accordin to longtime residents, Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy is so used to being ignored by county officials that it returns the favor.
Throughout the neighborhood, ram-shackle houses and dirt roads are under construction -- but none of them has been approved or licensed by Fairfax officials. And, says Travesky, county health officials routinely look the other way when health code violations are reported at existing homes.
"What are they going to do? Condemn those homes and throw the people out? Where will they go?" Travesky asked.
The same inertia and hopelessness afflicts Greg Robinson and his basketball buddies at Braddock center. But they say the real reason they don't have the gym they want is much less complicated than inflation or a sewer system.
"It's simple," Robinson said, pinching the skin of his forearm. "Our tans are too good."
County officials vigorusly deny that.
"It's a matter of dollars and the number of families you're serving," said Crahan. "We're dealing with limited dollars, here and at all the rest of our projects."
Crahan said the county is building a community center for 540 families in Huntington, a mostly lower-middleclass, mostly white neighborhood just south of Alexandria. The center also lacks a gym, "and no one objected."
In addition, Crahan said, of seven priorities for the community center set by a task force of Lincoln-Lewis-Vannoy citizens, "a gym was about No. 7."
Travesky feels a gym of some sort should be built in lincoln-lewis-Vannoy, anyway.
"I don't know what good a community center there will be without a gym," she said. "It's a very isolated community. . . . I just think they need it. The only thing they can do in the one they've got now is play Ping-Pong.
"Knowing they still need a sewer, the gym's not a top priority. But you have to look at the total environment in the community. Not every gym has to be big eough for a Bullets game."
How to pay for a gym of any size is the question, of course. Mott says the civic association plans to ask for funds for the gym during the next fiscal year. Crahan said county officials may make the same request, and he stresses that the scale-down community center is being built in such a way that a gym can be added later, whenever funds are available.
Meanwhile, Sonny Metcalfe is talking of seeking private funds. But he knows the odds.
"To get a gym, we don't need an angel," Metcalfe says. "We need the good Lord himself."