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Resurrection Basketball League in the Chicago Journal

Published: September 28, 2007

Breaking Barriers: Pilsen Basketball League Fights Crime Creatively

June 20, 2007
Pilsen’s youth basketball league is traveling to take back their crime-ridden neighborhood block by block.
Last week the Summer Youth Basketball League held the first game of its 8th season on 18th Street between May and Carpenter. The league will play at different blocks every Friday evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. throughout the summer.
Alvaro Obregon, one of the founders of the Pilsen basketball league, said the goal of the league is to break down neighborhood barriers by bringing together people from different territories and to take back streets from gangs.
“We needed to be creative about fighting crime,” Obregon said. “If we hide from the bad stuff, then they win.”
The basketball games bring our neighbors, family and friends to watch the children play and enjoy a cookout. Police shut down the streets to create a safe space, which also helps the children establish relationships with authorities.
What started as rag-tag games, has grown into a league of more than 100 male and female players ranging in ages from 8-20. It also has become a model for other neighborhoods looking to fight crime creatively.
Last year Little Village established its own league, and Obregon said other neighborhoods like Back of the Yards and North Lawndale are now considering starting similar programs. The program has been coordinated by community non-profits, the Little Village Community Development Corporation and the Resurrection Project in Pilsen.
Carmelita Frias was looking for fun and positive activities for her four children to participate in when she started volunteering for the Pilsen basketball program four years ago. She said children often turn to gangs when they aren’t getting the attention they need at home and don’t have good relationships with adults.
“The older they get and the less attention they have, the easier they will be swayed to go with gang members,” Frias said. “We have to take back the neighborhood.”
Javier Sepulbeda, 15, has been playing as a point guard with the league for the last three seasons, and said he has met a lot of kids from the neighborhood that he would not have met if he wasn’t on the league.
“It keeps me off the streets,” he said. “We do nothing but sports now.”
Sepulbeda’s involvement in the league even saved him from a potentially dangerous run-in with gang members. When Sepulbeda was in a Pilsen McDonald’s not long ago, he said there was a group of gang bangers that were about to jump him, but one of them recognized him from playing on the league so they left him alone.
“Now that I’m in the program, they don’t look at me,” Sepulbeda said.