MABTON - There's no doubt there is little for youngsters to do after school hours in Mabton.
The one activity that has brought young and old together is the sport of basketball, often played on the basketball court situated between the Mabton School District office and the Mabton High School tennis courts.
The hoops at the courts, however, were torn down by the school district a few weeks ago and some community members are displeased. One group, the Save the Green Courts Committee, has decided to do something about it.
That group has devised a petition on which they have been busily gathering names of those in support of keeping the courts in place.
They argue the tennis courts may have basketball hoops, but tennis courts are not designed for basketball. They are too long and too wide for regulation games.
"The small (basketball) courts aren't quite regulation (either), but they are much closer," shared Lee Troy Rodriguez when talking about the courts the group seeks to save.
He and five others serve as representatives of the Save the Green Courts Committee. They all said the courts have served a purpose, giving youngsters a place to play when school is out.
Youngsters practice their skills for 3-on-3 basketball tournaments on the courts, as well as develop friendships, according to Kristian Carasco and Derrick Nash, two members of the Mabton High School basketball team.
"The practice on the courts has helped us learn how to work together," shared Nash.
Carrasco continued the thought, saying, "That's what makes us so competitive."
"There's a lot of talk about the courts being used as a gang hang-out, but I've only seen kids playing basketball on them...not gangs," shared an adult representative, Tawnya Ibarra.
Zachary Peralez isn't any longer a student at Mabton High School, but as an adult he still uses the courts and said those playing on the courts would drive out anybody with malicious intent.
"We took care of the problem of littering," Carasco noted, explaining the courts at one time were temporarily closed to the public because those using them had been leaving trash laying around.
There are 48 student and adult volunteers behind the petition being circulated in Mabton. All of them want to see the basketball hoops put back in place...all want the basketball courts to be useable for the summer.
"The teachers are saying nothing will be done during the school year because the students would be upset, but the courts are slated for removal for this summer when the kids are away," Rodriguez shared.
He said the group wants action now because without the basketball hoops there won't be any activities left for those living in the Mabton community.
Because of claims there have been gang issues and graffiti on the hoops, Ibarra went a step further. She asked the Mabton Police Department for a report detailing the calls related to such issues responded to by officers. The police department, she said, has not yet provided the report.
"The only graffiti we have seen was on the ground near the tennis courts...that was the result of kids messing around and they were not gang members, but skaters," shared Carasco.
"Look how bad gang problems are in other communities...their courts are still up," Nash chimed in.
Peralez had a few more words to add. He serves as a role model for the youngsters in the community and feels the removal of the courts would be to the detriment of the community. He feels more youngsters will look to gangs to fill the void left by the lack of activity provided at the basketball court.
"We call Zach and the older guys 'Green Court Legends'," Rodriguez backed up the claim to Peralez serving as a role model.
The group brought up another concern. They said lights were put in place around the courts, but haven't been used but for the first two weeks following the installation.
They said the lights would provide better security at the courts if they were turned on.
The group also feels some frustration with the police department. They feel Mabton police officers are paid for by the citizens to protect the community. Because they don't often see officers near the basketball courts, they feel the department is not serving the community well enough.
"We would be the volunteers to clean up any graffiti on the courts," shared Carasco.
"We want the school board to know this is an issue the community is behind," shared Ibarra.