Town’s removal of basketball hoops causes controversy

Jul 20, 2020

For the past several weeks, hundreds have gathered in Onset each Sunday to play basketball and watch as professionals and Division I college players competed in tournaments, pick-up games, and dunk contests.

While both the organizers of those events and town officials agreed to put full tournaments on hold until coronavirus restrictions are lifted, the organizers and many others in town think that removing both hoops from every court in town might have been overkill.

The weekly games, known as Sunday Onset Pick-Up, were organized by Aaron Strothers and Jordan Rezendes, both of whom grew up in town and have made basketball their careers as a professional player internationally and a college-level coach, respectively.

Strothers and Rezendes met with town officials for two hours on Wednesday, July 15, to discuss how they could proceed safely. 

“We’re not trying to say that we should keep on growing, but at least give us something to do there. In this current stage, we should be able to shoot around and do no-contact stuff,” Strothers said. “We could have scaled down, added more masks for people, more hand sanitizer, told people to keep their distance. We could have worked together to make it safer.”

However, Strothers said they were unable to work with the town as Assistant Town Administrator Dorene Allen-England seemed convinced that the only safe solution was to take down all the nets. Allen-England attended the meeting in place of Town Administrator Derek Sullivan, who is currently on furlough. 

“So then we started going back and forth,” Strothers said, discussing what the actual capacity limit of the park is (which seems to be unknown) and trying to figure out what would be safe.

Strothers said that he asked if it would be okay for a father and son to shoot hoops in the park. Allen-England said that because that was basketball, it would not be allowed under state guidelines. 

Allen-England asked if it would be easier to take all the hoops down, and, eventually, Strothers said he and Rezendes capitulated, saying “If that’s what you have to do, that’s what you have to do.”

The state’s guidance on sports doesn’t back up the removal of all the basketball hoops. 

While full basketball games and scrimmages are not allowed, “individual or socially distanced group activities” including “no-contact workouts, aerobic conditioning, individual skill work, and drills” are. 

Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be any risk associated with individuals or families using the courts to shoot hoops or play together.

“We need to do our best to try to stay safe. The issue is not about us, they’re just doing their job,” Rezendes said. He explained that he thinks that everyone involved is trying to make the decision that is best for everyone. “I just understand where everyone’s frustration is. No one’s right, no one’s wrong. No one’s being targeted.”

Allen-England presented a different account of the meeting: “We all agreed that the only way to abide by the Governor's reopening plan was to take down or zip tie all the nets. This was discussed at length at the meeting. Everyone left that night knowing that the Town would take down the nets immediately.”

“This joint decision was a difficult decision as we know that many people enjoy using the courts, but complying with the Governor's mandate and protecting the safety and well-being of our residents is of the [utmost] importance. We are hopeful that the Governor will lift the restriction on playing basketball shortly so that the nets can be re-hung,” Allen-England said. 

According to Allen-England, the group did not discuss leaving up one hoop on each court, which would prevent games but allow people to play. 

Strothers and Rezendes both said that leaving up one hoop would be a better option than removing all the hoops, as it would allow individuals or families to shoot hoops or run drills but would prevent full games.