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Places don't behave badly -- people do

When Matt Chandler explains why he and his colleagues on the Blasdell Village Board voted to get rid of the basketball hoops at the Silver Street playground, it sounds reasonable.

It just feels unreasonable.

It also felt unreasonable last year when some Cheektowaga residents called for the removal of the courts at Cheektowaga Town Park after a kid was shot and killed near them, or when courts began disappearing in Niagara Falls because of a belief that they were becoming gang magnets.

Chandler said he ran for the Blasdell Village Board to address quality-of-life issues. He wants his aging community to be the kind of place where young families just starting out want to live. Part of that is having recreation options such as those offered at the two village playgrounds, commonly referred to as Silver Street and JFK.

But shortly after he took office, he started hearing of problems at Silver Street, particularly on the basketball courts. He said carloads of people were coming in from outside the village to play and police were being called in to respond to a stream of complaints.

"Residents found broken beer bottles, cigarettes, and in at least one case I know of, a used condom on the court," he said. "The Silver Street playground has equipment geared primarily for younger children, and we saw the removal of the courts as a way to ensure that the park remains safe and enjoyable for our families with young children."

Some residents accused the board of a racially motivated decision, which trustees denied. Chandler said that it was about what was going on at the courts, not the race of the people using them.

But neither race nor basketball courts is the problem; people who behave like jerks are the problem, and you can find them on every kind of surface playing every kind of sport.

Jerk golfers hit the ball into the group ahead because they're playing too slow. Jerk tennis players miss a shot and smash their rackets on the ground. Jerk bicyclists ride three abreast on the road and refuse to move over to let traffic pass.

Blaming basketball courts for bad behavior or violence is like blaming the golf course or the tennis court or the road for the aforementioned jerks.

You want to see bad behavior? Take an hour one Saturday to watch a travel hockey game between two teams of 9-year-olds and count the profanities or the number of times you hear parents screaming at children, officials and each other.

If you're worried about a sport that engenders violence, work to ban soccer. There are more near-felonies committed during some games -- and occasionally, in the handshake line afterward -- than in an entire season of "Law and Order."

But no one is trying to ban hockey rinks or soccer fields, and we should not be trying to get rid of basketball courts.

Western New York needs more recreational opportunities, not fewer. Our most populous communities were built with the idea that residents would want to live there if there were fun things for them to do at little or no cost. Look around. It's why we have so many municipal golf courses, parks and playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis courts, baseball diamonds and especially basketball courts.

To their credit, Blasdell officials are talking about using the former courts as a place where kids can play street hockey. So at the very least, the space could still be used for a recreational purpose.

That also seems reasonable.