Oakland Basketball League Gets Youth Off the Streets with ‘Midnight’ Games and Workshops

The Oakland Midnight Basketball League is operated out of the Soldiertown indoor basketball facility in Oakland. (Oakland Midnight Basketball League)

A special, multi-pronged community program in Oakland that uses late-night basketball to get youth off the streets has returned with a renewed and ever-urgent push to achieve its goals: violence prevention, intervention and healing.

It’s called the Oakland Midnight Basketball League (OMBL), which takes place at the Soldiertown Indoor Basketball Center on Fourth Street.

The program grew out of a national initiative in the 1980s that sought to use Friday night basketball games to provide inner-city youth with a way to stay off the streets.

The Oakland chapter revamped and relaunched its program in 2019, but soon after was forced to close due to the pandemic.

Earlier this year, it worked to get back up and running with soft launches, and now it’s “back to full strength – year-round,” the Oakland Midnight Basketball manager says. League, Marshall Collins, at KTVU.

It is run by the Alameda County Probation Department. “One of the core responsibilities of the probation service and its overall goals is to ensure that we provide opportunities for young people and families to thrive outside of the justice system,” said deputy director of probation Brian Ford, adding, “The Oakland Midnight Basketball League is one of the many ways we demonstrate our commitment to this goal.”

The timing of the program’s return came at a critical time in Oakland, where the number of homicides rose steadily and steadily as gun violence raged in the city. On Monday, the city marked its 105th homicide so far this year, with the killing of a 19-year-old man in East Oakland.

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Oakland Midnight Basketball sought to act as a tool to fight bloodshed and crime.

“Our mission is to prevent violence and create young leaders through basketball and workshops,” Collins said, adding, “We do this by keeping urban youth off the streets and engaging them with alternatives to drugs and crime”.

150 young people between the ages of 15 and 25 are currently registered in the league.

Teens and young adults compete in the Oakland Midnight Basketball League which has games Friday at 9 p.m. through Saturday at 1 a.m. (Oakland Midnight Basketball League)

Every Friday they get together to play late night/early morning basketball games from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

“We use the basketball as a vehicle to get them through the door,” Collins said.

And while basketball was a draw for many who participated in it, skills in the game weren’t necessary. “It’s open to anyone who wants to walk through the door,” explained the program director.

There was no charge to play, and the ticket to being part of the program was to attend the weekly hour-long workshop held a few hours before game time.

The workshops offered life skills advice, instruction and help with speakers who covered a wide range of topics, including mental health and beyond.

“Different speakers, from how to get a job to how to get into college, to how to get rent,” Collins said, noting that it was all free — a rare component of the program. , compared to other midnight basketball leagues across the country. .

The workshops also provided young people with the opportunity to discuss events affecting their lives, including the cycle of gun violence that has now dominated the headlines in Oakland.

“We have a guy, his name is Kevin, he runs our workshops. He talks about current events and things from his past because he works with probation. He’s very outspoken about things that are going on and in phase with what kids have to deal with every day,” Collins said.

In addition to free workshops, attendees were treated to free food, free uniforms, free time in the field, and even free Lyft rides to the facility.

While working to help combat the cycle of violence in the city, OMBL has also sought to provide a source of hope, inspiration and opportunity. To that end, he began taking videos of players on the court, so they could release highlight reels to generate interest from college basketball programs.

“I’m trying to take it a step further,” Collins said. “The community league showcases the talents of kids, gives them opportunities. That’s what it’s all about. If we can do that and give them opportunities, if we get the high school split, let’s say up ’50 now colleges come out and watch them play,’ he added.

The league currently represents children from eight area high schools. But ultimately, the goal was to increase that number to 50 high schools in Northern California, providing a greater opportunity for young players to be seen by college scouts.

“I’ve been coaching college basketball for 17 years now. I just know that if you can give kids hope, that’s another angle you can reach them, and they’re not on the streets. At the end of the day, it’s about keeping crime down,” the director said.

Collins, who is employed by the Alameda County Probation Department, said OMBL works with the Oakland Police Activity League (PAL) as community policing is another major part of Midnight Basketball’s goals.

Officers with PAL interact with teens and young adults, giving them a chance to create and build community and relationships with those patrolling the streets.

The league faced obstacles as it aimed to grow and expand, at a time when many other community programs were struggling to stay open.

The director said OMBL was fortunate to have sponsors and grants from key organizations including Kaiser and Oakland Athletics, but with each six- to eight-week session costing around $125,000, the program was constantly seeking financial support to continue operating.

“A lot of programs have been pulled from local towns and young people have nothing to do, so we’re trying to provide a safe place to have fun and get off the streets,” Collins said.

He added that while it might start with basketball, he ultimately hoped the program would provide young people with the resources to step out and act as a seed of change in their respective communities.

“For us, we even talk about it with the kids, that we want them to come back and be inspired and to come back and inspire young people younger than them, going back to your high school, going back to your communities,” Collins said. , “Anything to help them help others.”

150 young people between the ages of 15 and 25 are currently registered in the Oakland Midnight Basketball League. (Oakland Midnight Basketball League)

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