Officials debate returning hoops

Borough officials are discussing whether to replace the basketball hoops at the Joseph Healy Recreation Area, above, on Meadow Street. The hoops were removed about five years ago due to a variety of complaints from residents about the behavior exhibited at the court. –LUKE MARSHALL

Borough officials are discussing whether to replace the basketball hoops at the Joseph Healy Recreation Area, above, on Meadow Street. The hoops were removed about five years ago due to a variety of complaints from residents about the behavior exhibited at the court. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The idea of putting the basketball hoops back up at the Joseph Healy Recreation Area is not a slam dunk with everyone in the borough.

The hoops, which were on a basketball court next to Salem Elementary School on Meadow Street, were removed about five years ago.

Parks Commission Chairman Jay Kuczenski said they were taken down due to a number of complaints raised by residents. The complaints included foul language being used by players disrupting activities on the Green and classes at Salem, as well as graffiti and vandalism at the court.

Kuczenski, who spoke before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses March 4, said the commission voted in January not to place the hoops back up this year due to the complaints.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said he has had ongoing discussions with the commission about replacing the hoops.  

“We’ve had an ongoing discussion and a disagreement of opinion with what to do with the former basketball courts at Salem. I am passionately in favor of returning those courts to basketball use with some restriction to play that would minimize any disturbances. The Park Commission has a different opinion on that. We’ve gone into a little bit of a stalemate here,” Mezzo said.

Among the points of contention is who has the authority to make the final decision.

Kuczenski said he wanted to bring the issue before the board so it can make a decision about what to do.

Mezzo said it’s not the board’s decision to make, and the final say lies with the commission.

“I’m not sure this board has the authority to make that decision,” Mezzo said. “I have resisted the urge to instruct our staff to put the courts back there with restrictions.”

Mezzo said one of the reasons he would like the hoops to go back up is the lack of full-sized basketball courts in the borough.

“We have a lot of people that like to play basketball in this community and there are not that many places to play outside of Linden Park. There have always historically been basketball courts there,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo said there are hoop covers that can be installed to prevent the balls from going into the hoops. The covers would allow the borough to regulate the use of the courts.

Burgess Michael Bronko said the issue went beyond just where people could play basketball.

“The problem is people were sitting there on the Green on Tuesday nights, listening to kids swear across the street, which is why a lot of the complaints came through in the first place,” Bronko said.

Mezzo said the problem with the kids swearing did not necessarily go away when the hoops did.

“That’s a policing issue where you can restrict the use of it because right now there are kids hanging out there, swearing with nothing to do but skate on an asphalt surface with a skateboard,” Mezzo said.

Bronko pointed out the borough hasn’t received any complaints about the youth’s behavior since the hoops were removed.

“We received a whole lot of complaints when the hoops were there,” Bronko said.

Mezzo said one of the biggest problems at the court was the fact the rules were not clearly defined, which led to arguments.

“I play pick-up games of basketball. I play at the [YMCA]. I know that it’s an emotional sport. I happen to like that aspect of it. Disputes come when there are no rules, when there are no guidelines, when there are no oversights. When you define what the rules are and people learn to play by them, you have what’s been played in this country since the early 1900s, which is basketball,” Mezzo said.

Bronko said he’s also concerned that the hoops were continually being broken when they were up.

Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi said there has been trouble with youth behavior and vandalism since she has been a burgess. However, she said, if the town is able to restrict the use of the courts it would be worth putting the hoops up again.

“I think a good compromise here is to give it a season. Give it a season. Give it to the basketball players, create the hoops with the covers on them, and if they destroy it, well there’s your answer. It’s not a viable option,” Rossi said. “Give them another opportunity and if it doesn’t work, it’s a season. It may not even be another season. If they destroy it right away then we’ve got our answer.”

The board took no formal action. The consensus of the board was to send Kuczenski back to the commission with the recommendation that the hoops be installed for the season. As part of the suggestion, the hoops would be closed during school hours and whenever events are taking place on the Green.

The commission is expected to discuss the issue at its meeting Wednesday.

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