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Youngsters take a shot at keeping their game in city park

Waterbury Republican-American, Sunday, October 2, 2005
By Robyn Adams

WATERBURY - Not one bubble gum wrapper, empty potato chip bag or soda can littered the patched up basketball court at Fairlawn Park on Saturday.

J.J. Simpson, 11, Elliot Ward, 16, and his brother, Mark Ward, 15, and Gary Madison, 15, have kept the pledge they signed two months ago to keep the nearby 1-acre park off Homestead Avenue in the East End clean of litter.

The boys and about 42 more people who frequent the park also pledged not to engage in behavior that is disruptive to residents near the park, to keep the park presentable and free of vandalism, among other things. They are trying to get their voices heard in the city's $200,000 plan to renovate the park. Everyone likes the idea of new playground equipment and fencing. The young people do not like the idea suggested by older residents to eliminate the basketball court. Neither does Joe Summa, who grew up in the Fairlawn neighborhood. He played basketball at the park and at Sacred Heart High School. At Wesleyan University, he was named an all-American.

"I moved away 25 years ago," said Summa, an attorney and Prospect resident. "The last 15 years, I always put nets on the court for the kids. When playing with them this summer, they told me it might be closing."

Summa made some inquires and learned the basketball court might be on the chopping black. He went back to the children and told them if they wanted to save the courts, he would help. He started with the pledge sheet. Everyone who signed got a gray T-shirt with "Fairlawn Park Basketball Association" printed on the front. They plan to adopt the spot, or in this case, adopt the park.

Summa rounded up sponsors that include his law firm, Summa and Ryan of Waterbury, Ultimate Services, Torrington Supply and Waterbury Fire Department Engine 5. Waterbury police officer Joseph Padua is also involved. Padua patrols the East End. As a security measure, Summa said, surveillance cameras would be posted at the park to prevent vandalism. A sign will be erected alerting everyone they are on camera, and criminal acts would result in arrests. He also wants to link the equipment to a Webcast, so children in the neighborhood can see who is at the park and parents will know where their children are. Summa will discuss the plan to save the basketball court and to maintain the park at the next park board meeting later this month.

"These are nice kids who have taken ownership," Summa said. "This is a doable project." Fire Capt. Michael Farrell from Engine 5 and several firefighters took the pledge at the park Saturday. They also shot hoops with the boys. "The best part is this (proposal) gives the kids a sense of ownership. Give them an ounce of responsibility and it will be paid back in spades," Farrell said.

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