Home » Amsterdam considers moving basketball courts from Veterans Park

Amsterdam considers moving basketball courts from Veterans Park

“There will be basketball opportunities for kids throughout the city publicly available in venues that are maintained and well kept, but just generating smaller crowd sizes,” Mayor Michael Cinquanti said Wednesday. “The burdens on parking, noise, smoking and littering and all those things are going to be reduced automatically, because there are fewer people at each facility.”

Ongoing discussions follow a pair of alleged physical altercations between youths at the park around 5:10 p.m. on Friday. An officer stationed at the park observed and immediately intervened, according to city police Lt. Joseph Spencer.

Amsterdam park camera installation gets underway

No injuries were reported and no weapons were used in the alleged incidents involving seven individuals all under the age of 18.

A group of youths apparently entered the park and began “standing off” with others who were there. The officer at the park separated those individuals. Another fight began immediately thereafter that was also broken up.

All seven juveniles are expected to be charged this week with attempted assault, obstruction of governmental administration and criminal tampering. Two individuals will be additionally charged with disorderly conduct. The charges will be referred to the Montgomery County Probation Department, in accordance with the state’s Raise the Age law.

Spencer confirmed that some of the same individuals were involved in the incident at Amsterdam High School on Monday that remains under investigation by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. The circumstances of that incident involving a group of students have yet to be released. No injuries were reported.

National Grid volunteers clean up at trail, neighboring Amsterdam parks

“This incident preceded what happened at the high school,” Spencer said of the altercation at the park. “We are working with school officials and our partners at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in identifying that theme to it, if it was in fact related, and what the motivations might be.”

City officials say users of the three outdoor basketball courts have not caused the incidents at Veterans Park, instead the issues seemingly stem from the surrounding crowds of friends and spectators drawn to the popular amenity in the centrally located park.

“We created a place where there are too many people congregating at the same time, many of whom just want to play basketball and many who just want to cause problems,” Cinquanti said. “It’s the fighting and violence that we’re just not going to tolerate. It’s unfortunate because there are so many good things that happen. It only takes a few bad things like that to change the direction of where you’re headed.”

Plans are being developed to remove some or all of the basketball courts from the park and install individual courts at other parks to create a better balance at the public sites.

“We won’t put three together, because no park can handle the number of people and spectators that would show up,” Cinquanti said. “We’re going to work to prevent this nonsense of fighting to make it safer for basketball players to play outdoor basketball and give neighborhoods the quality of life.”

No decisions or timelines have been established at this point. Cinquanti said the city is keeping Chase Community Ventures, organizers of a summer youth basketball league that uses the Veterans Park courts, apprised of the developing plans in order to ensure alternate arrangements can be made that won’t disrupt the “well-run” league.

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The courts were installed as part of a $44,000 rehab project led by the basketball league organizers and funded by local donations and a $10,000 state grant in 2021. The previously deteriorating site where a basketball court and two tennis courts previously stood was completely overhauled.

John Sumpter, of Chase Community Ventures, declined comment when contacted on Wednesday about the city’s plans to alter the courts he championed.

Deputy Mayor and 1st Ward Alderwoman Kelly Quist-Demars believes more input and research is needed before the city decides to make substantial changes to the courts funded by private donations.

The issue has reinforced her goal of reviving the Recreation Commission, which she said should be involved in decisions about park amenities and safety. Quist-Demars this week asked fellow aldermen to begin coming up with potential appointments to the dormant committee.

It’s also unclear that issues at the park are directly related to the basketball courts, she added. The juveniles allegedly involved in last week’s incident could live nearby or could have walked to the easily accessible public space from the high school.

“We could take them out and still have large groups conveying there. We really do have to get to the heart of it and make thoughtful decisions moving forward,” Quist-Demars said.

Meanwhile, 2nd Ward Alderman Rich Holoday said neighborhood residents have had to deal with increasing issues at the park since more basketball courts were added. He said he receives daily calls from residents of his ward about noise, profanity, fights and other issues at the park.

“They say it’s out of control,” Holoday said. “It’s to the point where there’s things involved there that are just not safe … it’s our job to take a look at that and do whatever we can do to make it a safe place to live and to make everyone feel safe.”

Yet, Spencer said complaints to police are infrequent and few issues have been observed since the department in mid-March began assigning an officer to the park daily in the afternoons and evenings as warm weather returned and use of the city’s most heavily trafficked park picked up.

Amsterdam park camera installation gets underway

“We’ve received a lot of compliments and thank yous from having the officer there,” Spencer said. “Things have gone well at the park with many people using it. Many basketball games have taken place without any issue whatsoever … this fight happened, it’s being addressed and the bad actors that had a part in it, they’re going to be charged.”

The assignment of an officer to the park, who assists with other calls in the city as needed before returning to the site, is a continuation of the increased police presence launched after a pair of isolated incidents at the park last summer involving firearms.

Those incidents and feedback at a subsequent community meeting led to plans to install cameras and add parking lots near the basketball courts and baseball field. Camera installation is underway and the parking lot on Locust Avenue will be created shortly. The other parking area and related parking restrictions on Taft Place will come after Little League season concludes.

The impact of those changes should be determined before the city makes yet more alterations at the park, Quist-Demars suggested.

Although he supports ongoing efforts by the city to prevent issues at the park, Holoday believes the courts drawing upwards of 30 kids to a single site to shoot hoops should be moved. He also suggested creating pocket parks with half courts on vacant lots around the city could provide kids opportunities to play basketball within their own neighborhoods.

“It really breaks my heart to see that something that we all attempted to create something beautiful made such an issue, but we’re in the process of fixing it,” Holoday said. “The game itself doesn’t need to be compromised with the taking down of these three courts.”

Should any of the basketball courts be removed from Veterans Park, another amenity would take their place. Pickleball was an initial suggestion that may be considered.

City officials largely were surprised to hear that the rapidly growing sport has been the subject of fierce noise complaints across the country aimed at courts installed in residential areas and the frequent popping sound of play, sometimes leading to lawsuits, according to widespread reporting by national media outlets.

“I think it gets to the point of we have to slow down before we make any decision, because we could be replacing one problem with a different problem,” Quist-Demars said.

Amsterdam park camera installation gets underway

National Grid volunteers clean up at trail, neighboring Amsterdam parks

Suppression hearing probes accused Veterans Park shooter’s right to remain silent