Drive by Highland Park on any Tuesday or Friday, and one can feel the positive vibe all the way on the street.
This year, The Movement basketball league has grown bigger than ever, with more sponsors, more players, more volunteers, and the positive energy that everyone hoped for when the league started four years ago in the wake of the Pablo Villeda murder, and associated shootings, on Washington Avenue.
“There are more players and we’re growing bigger and building that community that we hoped for,” said Damali Vidot, who is the president of the league and of the City Council. “We have more than 100 kids this year and we have a waiting list too. It’s the most participation we’ve ever had. It’s just really great to see that any Tuesday or Friday when you drive by Highland Park and there are so many people at the at the basketball court. The kids get it; they know it’s more than just basketball. They play with passion and are so respectful.”
The league consists of eight teams, with sponsors such as State Rep. Dan Ryan, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Century 21 and William Vaquerano. Most of the sponsors come down for the games, she said, as they are interested in seeing how the league has progressed.
Right now, they are in their sixth week of games, with four games left. They will have a big playoff event in the coming weeks that Vidot said they hope will be a big community celebration.
The Movement caters to young men ages 13-20, and was formed because the founders felt that nothing was being done to reach out to that age group – particularly those who weren’t misguided, but maybe getting influenced by bad things. Now that it has become so popular, Vidot said they are attracting all of that age group in Chelsea and beyond to Highland Park twice a week.
It was what they hoped for.
“We’re all there to have a good time, and kids don’t just come to play basketball,” she said. “They stay and hand out and they build relationships with coaches and with me and with other players. These are relationships that last beyond the summer so that even outside the season they feel like they can talk to a coach or one of the other players about a problem they are having. It’s definitely got that vibe.”
This year, Vidot said they have celebrated the first female coach, as well as the first coach who came back after “aging out” as a player.
“The idea was always to pass the baton, and we’re seeing kids come back to coach this year after having been players in the past,” she said. “We wanted this to get passed on to those kids so that it’s self-sustaining. We’re already starting to see some of that.” The Movement starts at 6 p.m. in Highland Park every Tuesday and Friday, with games lasting until about 10 p.m.