Crazy, Colorful Hoop Dreams / By Elizabeth Kelleher
The Washington area's newest outdoor basketball court might easily be confused for post-modern sculpture garden or a giant candyland game board. And the court, just opened at Rockville's Municipal Swim Center at Welsh Park, features large colorful shooting circles and multicolored backboards and that are curved or set at incongruous angles, with rims that range from four to eight feet off the ground. It's Bankshot Basketball, a shooting game that resembles "horse" - if in horse you were required to bounce your shots off assorted sheets of fiberglass.
Before you play Bankshot, take a bit of advice from Marcelino Ruiz of Silver Spring: "Unlearn everything you've learned about basketball." Ruiz, disabled from having polio as a child, plays wheelchair basketball for a National Rehabilitation Hospital team called the Ambassadors. He recently tried Bankshot with his 16-year-old daughter, Crystal, who plays summer league basketball. Crystal mastered many of the shots but got hung up at one called "The Black Hole." Like other groups playing that day, the two discussed strategy, with Dad offering advice such as: "chest-pass to the middle of the backboard, hard. Stand in the middle of the circle. And remember geometry."
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking," Crystal mutters, not too confidently. Geometry or physics.
To score at the 12 stations, "You should understand trajectories. . . there are real physics involved," says the game's inventor, Reeve Brenner, a Rabbi at the Bethesda Jewish Congregation. "This is where Michael Jordan meets Albert Einstein above the rim." Brenner's a bit of a basketball nut, who has been pushing Bankshot between sermons for more than a decade, after he was inspired by a disabled cousin to create the game. He stresses the inclusive nature of the game. "Its raison d'etre is to get all parts of the population to enjoy a sport together." It's a refreshing concept that encourages parents to play with children, an improvement for anyone who's spent untold hours watching their kids disappear into the usual playground tunnels, chutes and ballrooms marked "kids only," and sat there imaginging them getting trampled by a big kid with a runny nose and a bad attitude. During a recent visit, the court's appeal was especially strong for 7- to 12-year olds.
Adam Silverman of Rockville is old enough (9) and jaded enough (" 'the Lion King'. . . I hated that movie") to not be too easily impressed. But take it from him. When he asked if he prefers Bankshot to regular basketball, his eyes widen and he answers with emphasis, "Way." Children his age often have some basketball skills but aren't as likely to have the knowledge to help them figure out the touch and accuracy needed to score at Bankshot. It's really challenging for them. But it's summer, so they have the time. One 8-year-old boy tried to a shot 15 times, made it and yelled, "Finally!" only to retrieve the ball and start again, missing over and over.
While Brenner "worked hard to make it hard," it's not all frustration. Along with the challenge comes more opportunities for kids than conventional basketball offers. Dunking on low baskets. Ricocheting a ball of two backboards, score or not. Bouncing balls in and out of the circles. (The swim center provides smaller balls for younger children). Or they can choose, as my 6-year-old does, to act as officials rebounder, which is no easy job off of these unpredictable backboards. As for scoring, it's based on where you take your shots from - with players awarded anywhere from 1 to 3 points per successful shot. Littler kids can play in easier version. Brenner says when Bankshot Basketball opened at a center for the disabled and Tel Aviv, the court's colors and backboards attracted neighborhood children, who began playing with the patients. (There are all 135 courts worldwide now.)
Not only is it cross-generational, but it helps the able-bodied and disabled to compete evenly. And because its new to everyone and doesn't involve running, it moves the athlete a peg closer to the non-athlete. Carol Calloway, a basketball coach at Arlington's Wakefield High School, visited the Rockville court recently with four junior varsity players from Wakefield, 14- to 16-year-old girls who helped win a division championship. They shoot baskets for a while before trying to keep score. "How we supposed to do this?" wails Ebony Overton. The girls jostle and tease one another. Rodeth Sousa says, "This is dumb but it's fun." Tasha Pelham answers, "This ain't fun. If we were making them, it'd be all exciting. They messed this one up. . . It needs to be moved over, under the backboard."
After a few minutes they start at the first station and play through, keeping tournament score, as the shots progress from conventional to much harder. The last is a carom off two backboards through one basket and into another. The stations have descriptive names, like "Wrap Around," "Chute Shot," "Ricochet," "Double Glance," "Roll Back," etc. Callaway says her players work hard at practice making regular shot and are always intensely competitive, so she was glad to see that while they played Bankshot, they weren't as interested in the score, but were concentrating on one shot, trying to meet its challenge." This is good for them. Bankshot makes them concentrate and do individual thinking, individual work. It takes the competition out and makes them work on skills independent of basketball."
The Bankshot court is compact. But since you're not running, it works. Callaway thought it was a little claustrophobic first, but after playing, said, "I'm thankful. . . You miss so often and have to chase the ball around less."
Photo galleryView Gallery
"We played at the Bankshot today. All the children had a great time - not just the 'sporty' ones! The teachers were commenting how good it was that so many kids could play at the same time. Thanks!!"Helen Cordova