By Rich Scinto
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The city's latest effort to combat violence on the eastern side of the city doesn't involve gang round-ups or community discussions.
It involves basketball.
The league started after members of the Police Department approached New Haven Family Alliance street outreach workers and other groups about ways to reduce violence in the eastern side of the city.
Most of the city's homicides that have occurred since December of last year have happened on the eastern side. Police arrested 13 alleged members of the Playboys and other associated groups near Interstate 91's exit 8 last month.
The goal is to give youth in the city a positive, structured activity with basketball instead of activities that can lead to violence. Participants also hear from a motivational speaker every game day before tip-off, said Shirley Ellis-West, director of the street outreach worker program through the New Haven Family Alliance.
There are eight teams in the league with an average of 10 members per team.
The league is sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department.
"Hopefully, this ends up being a successful pilot and spreads to the rest of the city," said Felicia Shashinka, a supervisor in the parks department.
The league meets every Monday and Wednesday until the beginning of May. Things kick off with a motivational speaker followed by two games.
The police East Shore district manager, Sgt. Vincent Anastasio, said many of the league's participants are from the area, but there are people from all over the city who have shown up.
The New Haven Family Alliance street outreach workers helped organize most of the eight teams in the league, said Ellis-West, program manager for the street outreach workers. The program also brings food for the participants.
It's the third time outreach workers have been involved in organizing a league with the city parks department.
Street outreach workers have been deployed more often to the eastern side of the city, Ellis-West said. Workers focus on Eastern Circle and the housing developments in the area.
Street outreach workers noticed that the Ross/Woodward gym regularly had dozens of visitors after school during open hours.
"We saw that the gym was actually being used significantly by young people not just in community but citywide," Ellis-West said.
There are other similar basketball leagues throughout the city, but many aren't as organized. The new "Save Our City" league has referees and every team plays against every other team once.
Both Ellis-West and Anastasio agreed that it was important to give structure to the league, especially in the wake of recent violence.
Copyright 2014 the New Haven Register
McClatchy-Tribune News Service