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Street Games Bring Back Retro City Pastimes

By Jeff Mays | April 25, 2012 7:43am
Kids at the Street Games.
Kids at the Street Games.
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Parks Department

HARLEM—As a kid growing up on the Upper West Side, Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe was great at Chinese handball — but not so much at stickball.

When he got bored with those games, there were marbles and basketball to keep him busy playing outside all day.

"Nothing can replace the feeling of being outside," said Benepe, who recalled losing many a marble. "The beauty of these games is no expensive equipment is required," he added.

Kids today have gotten away from the great New York street games of the 1960s and 1970s in favor of video games, computers and iPods. But the Parks Department is trying to revive those traditions with its annual Street Games on Saturday at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem.

Kids will learn how to bounce up and down using a pogo stick, swing a stickball bat, keep a hula hoop in motion, jump double dutch and play street hockey. There will also be a soap box derby, a Red Bulls skills challenge and a youth handball tournament.

"The pitch is to get away from the screens, get away from the virtual world," said Benepe. "You can learn a lot about diplomacy by playing school yard basketball."

Sponsored by Disney 98.7 Kiss FM, DNAinfo.com and others, Benepe said he hopes the event helps to reintroduce some of these games back to the city. Times have changed when parents would just push their kids outside and tell them to play. Events are much more programmed.

But the beauty of these games is that they can be played anywhere.

"These are games a lot of adults in New York City grew up with but the chain has been broken. We are trying to teach kids these fun skills that require little or no money," said Benepe.

The goal is to get kids moving and physically active. With summer not far off, Benepe said he hopes to see kids using some of their newly acquired skills in parks and play streets around the city.

"The main thing is to have fun," he said.

Street Games will be held rain or shine on Saturday, April 28 at Thomas Jefferson Park, located at 114th Street and First Avenue in Harlem. In case of rain, the games will be moved to Thomas Jefferson Park's recreation center.