BASKETBALL RETURNS TO BETHUNE
Boys play basketball in the recently completed Mary Bethune Youth Center, in the former Bethune High gym. Portable basketball courts were donated and adults from the community near the center volunteered to supervise the center so children, youth and adults could play basketball during the Easter vacation. An age-group schedule was put in place to ensure that all would-be NBA superstars would have some court time during the day. {Photo provided by Mary Sampson}

Basketball returns to Bethune, thanks to community efforts

Donated goals, volunteers to supervise give children a place to play during Easter vacation

Efforts to bring a community together to make the Bethune Youth Center a useful place for children and families of Marksville took a big step forward last week when residents of the Martin Luther King Drive presented a plan fueled by volunteers and donations.

After about an hour of hearing comments from residents in the area around Myron Mingo Memorial Park -- which includes the ballfields, basketball courts, D.A. Jordan Center and Bethune Youth Center -- an impromptu advisory committee came back with recommendations to allow basketball in the Bethune Center. Volunteers would supervise the center while it was in use.

Under that proposal, endorsed by the council, two portable basketball goals were to be donated and set up in the former Bethune gym. Those goals were in place for children to begin using them Monday morning -- and throughout the week-long Easter break.

Under the schedule presented to the council, the center would be open for basketball Monday-Thursday of Easter vacation (April 17-21). Children ages 5-12 were to have the court from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., teens aged 13-17 were to have the court from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and adults 18 and over were to have the court from 5 p.m. until closing at 8 p.m.

“Striping” the Bethune Center floor as a basketball court was briefly discussed, but no decision was made. The cost, if approved, would also either be covered by donations for that purpose or be done as a donation, the council was told.

CITIZEN COMMENTS
Several people addressed the Marksville City Council on April 12 asking that the city reopen the basketball courts that were closed last month.

The council closed the basketball court and took down the goals in response to a request from Little League officials, who said other teams were unwilling to play at the baseball park adjacent to the basketball courts because they feared for their safety.

There was a non-fatal shooting near the basketball courts in early March. Residents speaking at the April 12 meeting pointed out that the shooting did not occur on the basketball court and was not related to anything happening at the court.

One woman repeatedly referred to the area as “the ‘Hood,” using the term numerous times in the space of a minute.

“It’s not ‘the ‘Hood,” Councilwoman Mary Sampson said, visibly perturbed. “It’s a community.”

There was an attempt to paint the issue as racial -- apparently equating basketball as a “black” sport and baseball as a “white” one. That was quickly discounted by most of the other residents attending the meeting.

“This is not black and white,” Latisha Small said. “We all need to come together as Marksville.”

Small, a parent in the city’s Little League, commended the council for its action in March and said residents of that community need to come together to present a solution and not just complain because the basketball courts were closed.

“The problem is, this is all we have to offer,” she said. “We need to offer something else besides a basketball court.”

Small then brought up the recently completed Mary Bethune Youth Center, in the former Bethune High School gym. She said volunteers can provide tutoring classes after school and reading programs with donated books.

“There’s an outrage about closing the basketball courts,” Small said. “Why not set up a bookmobile for that area?”

Small suggested using the center for indoor basketball, with donated portable goals and volunteer supervisors. She said concerns about adults hogging the court and keeping children from playing could be resolved with an age-group schedule for use.

Mayor John Lemoine quickly called for two volunteers from Little League and two from the group of citizens calling for the basketball courts to be reopened. That group met while the council heard complaints about a mobile home allegedly being rented in violation of zoning ordinances and a VFW/American Legion request to dedicate a section of La. Hwy 1 (Tunica Drive) in honor of one -- or possibly all -- of the Avoyelles Parish men who were killed in action in Vietnam.

VIETNAM WAR MEMORIAL

The council seemed in favor of dedicating that part of La. Hwy 1 through Marksville as a Vietnam memorial highway to honor the 12 men from the parish who died in America’s longest war.

The Legion and VFW had asked that it be dedicated to honor only the first Avoyellean to die in that war, Marine Cpl. Brian James Gauthier of Mansura, who died near DaNang on July 11, 1965.

Gauthier was awarded the prestigious Navy Cross, Purple Heart for being wounded in action and several other combat and campaign medals for his service in Vietnam.

The Legion and VFW will consider the council’s alternative dedication and address next month’s council meeting.

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