By: Jose Arredondo
Children that live in the Alazan and Apache Courts area don’t have many options after school. There’s no mall or movie theater, and the nearest bowling alley is in another ZIP code. What is there to do in one of the poorest ZIP codes, 78207, in San Antonio? One of the more popular options is to hoop — play basketball.
The Inner City Basketball Court sits on the corner of South Trinity and Vera Cruz streets. A black fence surrounds the blue concrete court shaded by a colossal roof.
For decades the court has hosted basketball leagues, tournaments and clinics but its main use is pickup basketball. Kids, teens and adults run games all day and night while the number 67 VIA Bus rolls by, and the music from the raspa truck making its rounds sounds off at the Alazan Courts.
“Who’s got next,” one guy asks everyone seated in the bleachers.
Then he follows up with another important question, “What’s the count (what is the score)?”
The court is ran by Inner City Development, a West Side nonprofit that provides food, clothes, and after school programming for the low income neighborhood it serves.
“We wanted to maintain our grassroots-ness, so we don’t get any money from the city, state or government,” said Patti Radle, co-executive director at Inner City.
The court’s birth
Patti and Rod Radle, executive directors at Inner City, faced an obstacle when they decided to incorporate basketball in their organization in the early ‘70s. There were no accessible courts in the area at the time, so the Radles transported the West Side youth to Providence High School’s basketball gym for practice and games.
The basketball league was only for elementary school kids, but teenagers were involved in other ways. Rod Radle taught local teens how to referee and coach the younger children. However, the commute posed as an issue for the low-income neighborhood.
‘“It was a pain in the neck to run basketball outside of the neighborhood,” Patti Radle said. “So we asked a local grocer Juan Ruiz, who was really involved in the community, about a property next to us.”
Radle asked Ruiz if she could rent the property to build the basketball court, and he agreed, as long as there wasn’t a grocery store involved. Ruiz charged the Radles a dollar a year for the property in the mid ‘70s. Radle said the community felt ownership of the court but thought it was missing one component: a roof.
“In South Texas the temperatures can get extremely warm so Rod and I thought of this idea to have a cover,” Radle said.
This unique idea required help from the city, but in order to move forward, the Radles needed to own the property. They asked Ruiz for a price on the property and his lawyer told them $8,000, which was out of the Radles’ price range. Then the Radles received another message from Juan almost immediately after their meeting.
“He (Juan) wanted me to tell you . . .” Radle recalled the memory as she choked up. “He wants to give the property to you free of charge.”
Radle and company were extremely grateful for Ruiz’ gesture. So much, that she held a dedication ceremony for the court and invited Ruiz but he declined to attend because he didn’t want any credit for the creation.
The roof was the finishing touch for a soon-to-be safe haven in the barrio.
Inner City’s Impact
Troy Lopez, 24, first stepped on the concrete court at Inner City when he was 4 years old. His dad played there in younger days and it was inevitable for Lopez hoop there. He played in the leagues and often hooped after school, but more importantly it kept him out of trouble.
“I feel like if we had more parks, it would be better for our youth, because right now, kids are more into drugs,” Lopez said. “When we were younger, you would see kids walking around with basketballs and now, you see kids walking around with blunts.”
Lopez and many others were molded by Inner City. Orlando Mendez-Valdez, grew up in the Alazan Courts, and witnessed horrors such as stabbings, shootings and other negative influences. His response? Basketball.
His list of accomplishments on the basketball court: San Antonio Express News Player of the Year in 2004, 2009 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, an award obtained by NBA guards Derek Fisher and Courtney Lee, and he also led Western Kentucky to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. He’s been a professional basketball player for the last nine years and currently plays for Soles de Mexicali — a Mexican professional basketball team.
Mendez-Valdez’ first time playing organized basketball was at Inner City in elementary school. He, like many others from the barrio feel obligated to give back to the community. Last summer he held a free basketball clinic at Inner City for kids from the 78207 ZIP code.
“It was an honor to be able to do something like that and it was truly humbling experience to see kids actually wanting to come learn, “ he said. “Playing basketball was my escape and helped me become who I am.”
Radle says people give back because they understand what it was like growing up in area plagued by poverty and lack of opportunity. She thinks the sport of basketball nourishes the low-income neighborhood and teaches the youth life skills they probably wouldn’t learn anywhere else.
Mendez-Valdez and Lopez both agreed with that notion.
“I’m using skills that I learned through basketball on the daily at my work,” Lopez said. “If you are in a workplace, more often than not, you are not going to be working by yourself.”
Lopez added that basketball taught him how to handle constructive criticism and work with others. Mendez-valdez echoed him:
“Basketball definitely helped me a guidance and a tool and helped me understand my surroundings and helped me with my social skills.”