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Brookhaven Middle School Principal Larry Collier surveys gang graffiti that appeared Tuesday night at the door next to the school gymnasium. Collier says the school's outdoor basketball courts attract large groups of Hispanics, who are 'camping out' there on weekends.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Brookhaven Middle School Principal Larry Collier surveys gang graffiti that appeared Tuesday night at the door next to the school gymnasium. Collier says the school's outdoor basketball courts attract large groups of Hispanics, who are "camping out" there on weekends.

Hoops nightmares
Decatur schools' outdoor basketball courts attracting vandals, fewer players

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Outdoor basketball courts used to be the foundation of neighborhood hoop dreams. But these concrete havens, mostly on school properties in Decatur, are problematic or have fewer players today.

The courts are a problem for Brookhaven Middle School. Principal Larry Collier said they aren't being used just for basketball games. On weekends, large groups of Hispanics are "camping out," said Collier.

If they were just socializing, Collier probably wouldn't have an issue; however, he said his Southwest Decatur school is getting vandalized too often.

While he isn't sure if there's a connection, someone used black spray paint Tuesday night to paint gang graffiti on the outside gym wall and over the front door next to the gym. His custodian used graffiti removal spray on the wall, but because the culprits climbed on top of an awning over the door, the school system's maintenance department had to complete the cleanup.

Collier said his school needs several items to increase campus security. He said he needs more lighting and security cameras in the front and gates at the two parking lot entrances and exits. He would like to reserve the basketball court for physical education use only and enclose it with a 10-foot fence.

Keeping the courts playable can be expensive.

The combination of usage and inclement weather forces schools to routinely replace the nets. Oak Park Middle School Principal Dwight Satterfield said metal nets are a safety issue, so he can't use them. They can catch fingers and cut hands or worse.

"The (middle school) kids are always trying to see how high they can jump," Satterfield said.

Players who dunk or hang on rims tear up rims and backboards.

Principals at other Decatur schools said they haven't had the vandalism. Their worst issue has been the trash. Cedar Ridge Middle School Principal Beth Weinbaum and Julian Harris Elementary Principal Hank Kimbrell said they believe they've been lucky to avoid these problems because of their security cameras and well-lit areas.

Austin High's outdoor court was once one of the busiest places in this Southwest Decatur neighborhood. Principal Don Snow said he sees fewer players and would like to turn the area into a parking lot.

"Usually the only time we see anyone out there is when there's a soccer or a football game going on, and they're here for that event," Snow said.

Other principals agreed that fewer people are using the courts. Possible reasons include more gyms in churches, increased access to recreation centers and students preferring video games.

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