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On Saturday morning, the residents of Dignowity Hill came together at Lockwood Park to shoot, dribble and dunk during the first Summer 3 on 3 Throwdown tournament, hosted by The Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association (DHNA).
Nobody was left out as San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) officers, City officials and neighbors of all ages joined in. Police officers played against DHNA members in “celebrity exhibition” games and children competed in age groups.
The tournament is one of many initiatives on the Eastside that work to revitalize the neglected neighborhood to create a more positive environment.
“With all the crime going on, I wanted to bring the community together, get the kids off the street, play some ball, and at the same time, have them interact with the police,” said Dee Smith, longtime Eastsider and founder of Summer 3 on 3. “To show them that SAPD, they’re just humans like you, and (they are) approachable.”
Police Chief William McManus and Fire Chief Charles Hood dropped by to show their support.
“It does my heart good to see this. This is a good measure against crime,” McManus said. “Making a concentrated effort to engage the neighborhood in positive ways. This tournament is one of those ways.”
In late March, City Council members unanimously voted in favor of expanding SAPD foot patrols in Eastside crime hot spots. The goal of these patrols are twofold: Reduce crime and strengthen community-police relationships.
“Our officers have been making such efforts to engage the community and protect and prevent crime. I’m very proud of them for that,” McManus said. “This is the future – community engagement, connecting with the community in a much bigger way.”
Since expanding the foot patrols, crime rates have gone down, but research is still in its early stages, said Councilman Alan Warrick (D2).
The Summer 3 on 3 Throwdown tournament ideally is supposed to help, too. It will be held quarterly in the surrounding neighborhoods including Government Hill, Denver Heights and Harvard Place. The next tournament will take place in Government Hill in September, Smith said.
The tournament is a precursor to Midnight Basketball, which begins again on Friday, June 17. The Midnight Basketball league began in 2012 with the Eastside Promise Neighborhood Grant, and was recently expanded with a $200,000 reallocation request from Warrick.
Basketball as Motivation
Many NBA superstars got their basketball roots from humble backgrounds in their own neighborhoods. In a world ridden with crime, poverty and hardships, they turned to the game to keep them out of trouble.
Oftentimes, children idolize these superstars in hopes of becoming like them. Dontrae Suarez, 12, is short for his age. On Saturday, with bright inquisitive eyes and a cheek-to-cheek grin, he cheered on his older brother, whom he lovingly dubbed “Kawhi Leonard,” from the sidelines.
“I feel like a star when I’m shooting,” Suarez shouted, before running on the court to play. “Basketball is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Since he started playing basketball a year ago, Suarez says he feels safer in the neighborhood, and seeing the policemen play makes him feel like “nothing could go wrong.”
The Park on the Hill
Lockwood and Dignowity Park are bisected by a street. Unlike most local parks, the two feature a marvelous view overlooking the heart of downtown. Unfortunately, neither park is used to it’s full potential.
“There are lots of times when the park isn’t being used, even though there are a lot of families,” said local architect and Public Space East organizer Allison Hu.
The Dignowity Park Project was created last summer by the community to unite the two parks, and create something for the entire city. Public Space East and San Antonio Parks Foundation are spearheading the effort, and Public Space East is hoping to receive funding for it from the 2017 Municipal Bond program.
On Saturday, Hu shared renderings for renovated Lockwood and Dignowity parks in the making, and the vision they have for the area.
Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, several neighboring communities, and District 2 fully support the project.
“This park is in a unique part of the city, on a hill, overlooking the city,” said Hu, who lives next to to Lockwood Park. “It has potential to bring people together from all walks of life.”
Renovations include closing of one block of Burnet Street to unite the two parks into one nine-acre park, creating a well-lit bike and hike trail, increasing shade trees, removing sky clutter that interferes with the view and removing hidden “enclaves” that allow for criminal activity.
So far, the volunteer group has gathered more than $190,000 of in-kind donations of design and production work for the project including a $50,000 seed grand from the 80/20 Foundation. The organization is actively seeking private sponsors to kick-off an initial build phase, Hu added. Architects from Overland Partners, Lake/Flato Architects, and TBG have donated their time to the project, and are in the process of gathering petitions and verbal support from Eastside neighborhoods.
When signing the petitions, locals have included many reasons for their support of the park, Hu said, including reduction of crime rates, more basketball and a simple love for their community and city.
Top image: Panthers team Derrion, 12, drives the lane for a layup. Photo by Scott Ball.