The bright lights from the building illuminate the midnight sky, an indication that even at this late hour, the Glenarden Recreation Center is a hub of activity.
From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., a time when most are retreating to their beds, the Center is just beginning to come alive. Cars fill the parking lot, and groups of young people mill about before making their way inside the building.
Ordinarily, this much activity in the middle of the night might tend to raise eyebrows, but in Glenarden, the scene has become commonplace -- and very popular.
The cause of this nocturnal gathering is an innovation known as the Midnight Basketball League.
Imagine the possibilities of an organized summer basketball league that plays games in the wee hours of the morning, conducts NBA-style drafts to determine its teams, allows teams to trade players, and you have just a sample of why the Glenarden Midnight Basketball League has generated more than a passing interest in Prince George's County.
The MBL, as it usually is called, has six teams of 10 players, ranging in age from 17 to 20. Registration was open to county residents on a first-come, first-served basis. Student-athletes are not allowed to participate, so as to avoid eligibility problems. Games are played Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, three games each night.
Much of the league's appeal can be attributed to it's unique features, but the MBL is more than a gimmick. Initially conceived by Glenarden Town Manager G. Van Standifer to be a constructive late-night activity for the county's young men, the idea was shaped to include many of its present innovations.
One significant bright spot has been the cooperation of local businesses and corporations, which have contributed sponsorship money.
"To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever tried to do some of the things we're attempting with this league," said Heide Gardner, director of public relations and fundraising for the MBL. "This is not just a bunch of guys shooting around at night. This is an organized social program with a very specific purpose."
"Organized" could very well be the best single word to describe the MBL. From the orderly behavior of players and spectators to an official league "rule manual," it is clear that the league is an efficient, well-organized operation.
The major apprehension about the league was that bringing groups of young people together late at night might foster the type of activities the league was designed to eliminate. But any fears about late-night disturbances have been unfounded.
Area police, whom Gardner refer to as "our most enthusiastic supporters", periodically patrol the area, but there have been no incidents requiring their services to date.
Gardner, who also acts as the league's "unofficial" commissioner, handles requests from players hoping to sign up for the league. Although the rosters have been filled for the summer, she adds their names to an ever-growing list of those who will be given preference next year.
There also are plans in the works to bring in more teams and to expand the age limitations to accommodate more players.
"We felt all along that this was an idea that could work," said Gardner. "But I'm still a little surprised that the idea has caught on with the kids this well. The word of mouth about the league has been great."
"This league was a really good idea for a lot of reasons," said Ty Williams, 20, who plays for Team Xerox. "It's a chance to play some competitive ball and stay off the streets at the same time.
"It's a little late to be playing, but it's all right once you get used to it. I don't think most of the guys mind. I work during the day, so I had to adjust my sleeping habits, but I think it's worth it."
On June 21, the league held its first draft, complete with predetermined selection order and festive atmosphere. All eligible players' names were made available to the coaches, who made their picks based on players' performances in scrimmages.
"The draft was kind of a bold idea, but it went over well," said Gardner. "We wanted to make sure that players were picked fairly so that the teams could be evenly matched.
"We didn't want teams to sign up as a group, because a lot of times you'll get some that are too strong or too weak. We wanted to have close, competitive games -- not blowouts. And so far that's what we've gotten."
Another means of ensuring a competitive league balance is the rule allowing player trades until the season's fifth game. As in professional sports, all trades are subject to approval by the commissioner.
The fact the MBL borrows freely from the NBA for many of its ideas is no coincidence. In fact, the league's free-wheeling structure is probably one of the secrets to its success.
"Oh, I don't think there's any question that NBA-style rules add an extra dimension to the league that really appeals to the players," said Gardner. "It makes the experience special for them, and makes our league different from any other of its kind. That's part of the attraction."
This past Tuesday, the league unveiled yet another new wrinkle with its "Guest Coach" program. For one week's games (Tuesday through today), the league invited a number of notable sports personalities to come to Glenarden and act as visiting coaches for one game.
Among those who volunteered their services were former Washington Bullets Bob Dandridge and Phil Chenier, former NFL players Roy Jefferson and Clark Gaines, American University basketball Coach Ed Tapscott, and former North Carolina State star and Glenarden native Dereck Whittenburg.
I think the whole idea of this league is a real nice concept," said Ted King, 20, who plays for Black Diamond Enterprises. "It has a lot going for it that you won't find in other leagues."