Mayor’s hoop removal focus of weekend march and rally

A 2 1/2-mile march at 11 a.m. Saturday along West Fourth Street from City Hall to Memorial Park is planned as a peaceful protest in response to Mayor Gabriel J. Campana’s removal of the basketball hoops at the park and a demonstration of solidarity.

“We anticipate several hundred but we could get 15,” said Derek Slaughter, organizer of the march he’s calling Full Court Press and Pack the Park. The court press reference is a play on words referring to the basketball court removal, he said.

A teacher at Williamsport Area School District and its head girls basketball coach, Slaughter said the event permit is for 250 marchers using city sidewalks.

“We wanted to march in the middle of the street but that entailed a little more than we anticipated,” Slaughter said.

The marchers are preparing signs with messages on them.

“Our group is in its infancy,” he said of the members of a new citizens’ group called Williamsport Proud, whose motto is “Citizens Working to Improve Our City.”

While not affiliated with any political party, the group is planning to have a desk set up at the park for people to register to vote, Slaughter said.

“We’re a cross-section of the community who want to show unity and highlight the positives in our city,” Slaughter said.

The group’s two main focuses are getting the hoops back and empowering the citizens, he said.

Slaughter said girls on his team practiced at the courts on West Fourth Street.

“It floored me and others to see them taken down,” he said. “To correlate the courts with anyone who plays basketball and grouping them into one category is a negative connotation, without any real evidence of negative activities in Memorial Park.”

Campana ordered Streets and Parks Department employees to paint the courts blue in preparation for other games.

The court at Memorial Park is to be used for hopscotch, four-square and pickleball, a game similar to tennis that uses a plastic ball and racquets. An emblem of the United States also will be affixed to the court, Campana said.

The mayor has said he closed the basketball courts in order to prevent a shooting, curb deviant behavior and bring the park back to a family atmosphere.