Bitter rivals in the streets of New Haven, Connecticut, have decided to take part in a basketball tournament at the Hillhouse High School gym. These young men, who might otherwise have been exchanging gunfire, were on the basketball courts playing together. According to the New Haven Register, some of the most notorious trouble-makers in the city, as selected by the New Haven Police Department, are in the early stages of learning how to settle beefs in a civilized way and get along in society.

The organizers hope that a New Haven basketball tournament will reduce violence by giving incorrigible young men and women something to do with each other, besides fighting. Tyrone Weston, who directs the Street Outreach Workers, which operates under the auspices of the New Haven Family Alliance, explained how basketball games will influence off-court behavior.”Two groups approach each other and they prepare to fight,” he said. “Then one kid says of another, ‘Hey, I know that guy from basketball. He’s cool.’”A potentially bloody confrontation is avoided, Weston said.
As Ronald Huggins, 16-year-old New Haven Youth Council member puts it, “We want the neighborhoods to solve beefs. There will be teams from all over New Haven,” said Huggins, who attends Hillhouse High.”Kids are shooting at each other; now they’re playing basketball.”

To be clear, this tournament will not a be-all and end-all to violence, but it will help and it is a good starting point. A series of gang truces made last year dissolved, priming the new year for a period of unprecedented shootings and killings. Any violence and the player involved is stricken from his team, Weston said. “There can’t be any violence,” he emphasized.

Weston said he hopes to arrange games with similar aged teams in New York City, Boston and Rhode Island. Weston said he believes the plan really will work. One-hundred-ten of the 200 “hot list” teens identified by the NHPD joined the program. “I’ve got more than half,” he said. That should be enough to calm the city. According to media reports, many of the young people involved see some good in the program. “The main objective is so that we can stop the killing and stop the violence,” said Josh Johnson, 20. “We want to show that people can change. I’ve been shot six times and arrested 36 times. I’m here to show that kids from different areas can all have fun,” Johnson said. “I dropped out of school. All I wanted was to fight and skip school. I could be in prison for life or in a grave,” said Zacarri Graham, 26, of the Hill.

On the most basic level, the tournament will tire players out, Weston said. The nine games scheduled over the summer will be played on weekends. “If they weren’t here, the kids would be out shooting each other,” he said. Each game will be preceded by a one- to two-hour workshop, said Shirley Ellis-West, senior case manager with the New Haven Family Alliance. The sessions will deal with peer pressure, anger, conflict resolution, and non-violence. Before practice the teens will be given a “developmental idea” that relates to the game.

So, I must applaud Mr. Weston and his vision. Tiny and sure steps will make the difference in the lives of these young people. We have to give our children every tool at our disposal to help them to make the right choices and know that they can change their lives for the better. Gun violence will not solve their problems, but will ultimately be their ticket to sure downfall. Our young people are worth more than that. Just my thoughts, you be the judge…..