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Forest Glen Park basketball court, Silver Spring, MD, August 10, 2010. Source: Donald Earl Collins

Montgomery County Parks has done a poor job of maintaining its facilities. Especially its outdoor basketball courts, where the department has spared precious little funds for their maintenance and renovation. Even in cases where renovations have occurred, some courts remain substandard. Others are so poorly maintained, though, that they have fallen into non-use.

Given the growth in the county’s population over the previous decade – particularly of working-class Latino immigrants – and the growth in obesity rates, Montgomery County Parks is taking a risk with its poor maintenance and renovation record. The risk: that residents will assume – rightly or wrongly – that the county believes that certain parks and certain basketball courts aren’t worth the time and money to fix for fear of certain kinds of people.

Montgomery County, Maryland, part of suburban Washington, DC, is one of the ten richest counties in the United States, at least according to the US Census Bureau. As part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Montgomery County Parks has worked with an annual average budget of $121 million over the past five years for its dozens of parks and facilities. Yet in all eight parks that are part of this article, visited between July and September, the outdoor basketball courts had numerous deficiencies (see pictures attached). Montgomery County Parks has not responded to inquiries on this topic.

At Meadowbrook Park in Chevy Chase, there were two full basketball courts with an asphalt surface. That surface, however, was one that was weather-beaten and had undergone a series of patchwork repairs that from all appearances occurred more than a decade ago. It had rained the day before, and the multiple puddles on the court had yet to dry up or drain. There were muddy footprints and tire tracks on one side of the court. The faded-white backboards had severely rusted mounts and piping. One of the hoops had twisted about 45 degrees to the right, so off-centered that it would need to be replaced completely. Not more than fifteen yards away from the unfenced outdoor courts was a group of four tennis courts, well maintained and properly gated, with lights that can be turned on after sundown for night-time matches.

At Jessup-Blair Park on the Silver Spring-Washington, DC border, a renovation that had occurred in 2006-07 had already shown signs of disintegration. The surface of the renovated full court and half-court was the same as the surface of the tennis court, a hard but modified green asphalt surface. There were grass-filled holes and cracks in various spots throughout the basketball court, likely from the stress of full-court basketball games and the constant dribbling of basketballs.

The full court at Jessup-Blair was easily the largest one of the eight examined here, regulation size, with sixteen paces between mid-court and the three-point lines of each half court, and twenty-one paces between the three-point line and the hoop. The hoops themselves measured 10.5 feet off the ground, set up no doubt to discourage dunking, but a bit of a challenge for anyone attempting a jump-shot. Outdoor courts at other parks, including Montgomery Hills, Sligo-Dennis Avenue and Woodland, varied between six and thirteen paces between mid-court and each half-court’s three-point-line, and between twelve and eighteen paces between the three-point-line and each hoop. All had sloping issues, in which the court tilted lower or higher from one side to another.

Forest Glen Park’s basketball court was also in critical need of repair. The court was full of potholes, and grass had grown through the numerous deep cracks in the buckling asphalt. The pole, hoop and backboard was missing from one of the two full courts, and the high, uranium-cake colored wall dividing the basketball court from I-495 North had faded graffiti scribbled on it.

All in all, the outdoor basketball courts, while the worst facilities offered by Montgomery County Parks, were hardly the only facilities in need of repair. But they are among the easiest facilities to renovate and maintain. Leveling ground the size of a high school or college court, pouring concrete and asphalt, installing poles, hoops and backboards and painting mid-court, half-court, three-point and other lines costs little compared to re-seeding a soccer field (Jessup-Blair Park) or detoxifying a lake (Wheaton Regional Park).

It would also help to put up fences and gates around these courts, to separate them from the rest of these parks, the same thing Montgomery County Parks would do automatically for tennis courts or a skateboard park. Having neglected these facilities only shows how little one of the richest counties in the US cares about providing low-cost outdoor activities for its new generation of younger residents.