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Police Turn Down the Volume on East Harlem Summer Basketball League

By Gustavo Solis | August 18, 2014 7:44am
 The youth summer basketball league has been in East Harlem for 14 years. 
The League
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EAST HARLEM — A youth summer basketball league in Marcus Garvey Park is calling a foul after the NYPD refused to renew its permit to use speakers because of noise complaints.

The long-running East Harlem basketball youth forum, known simply as “The League,” has been hosting daily games in the park for 12- to 18-year-olds since the beginning of July — after moving from the nearby Wagner Houses, where it had worked with kids for more than 14 years.

But the NYPD yanked the league's August permit to use amplified sound in Marcus Garvey Park after getting too many complaints about the volume, police said.

“We’re trying to do something positive, something legitimate,” said the league’s founder Craig Yancey.

Yancey said they knew the volume was attracting some complaints and did their best to be good neighbors. They shut down the speakers at 8 p.m., before the games had ended, in plenty of time for the end of their permit, he said.

A handful of residents living in apartment buildings closest to the park said either they were not bothered by the noise or had not heard it.

Yancey said the amplified banter was a necessary part of the atmosphere.

“We’ve always done it — when we started in Wagner [Houses] I’d call the games on a blow horn,” he said. “It’s entertaining. I tell a few jokes and let the crowd know where the players are from and who is having a hot streak.”

As the league grew from a few local kids to 26 teams from four boroughs, so did the sound system. Until recently, Yancey called the game from a cordless microphone that blasted his voice to two speakers.

So when they moved the league to Marcus Garvey Park last summer, Yancey worked with the 25th Precinct and the Parks Department to get the proper permits.

Sgt. Brendan Ryan confirmed that the department didn’t renew the permit because of the noise complaints. He did not say how many complaints had been received.

The program was founded to help keep neighborhood kids busy during the summer months, organizers said.

“We’ve been dealing with a lot of violence in our neighborhood. The main reason we started doing this league is because we wanted to get kids off the streets,” said Mike Parker, who helped Yancey start the league.

Organizers said losing the sound permit had instant consequences.

“We haven’t had it this month so the crowd is dwindling down some,” Yancey said.

Although they are frustrated about the loss of the sound permit, organizers said they want the police to be involved in the league and use it as a way to build relationships with the kids.

“We want the NYPD’s support," Parker said. "This is one of the first times I’ve seen young people of the community inviting the NYPD to join them.”