DANVILLE — Two new basketball courts at Garfield Park will be dedicated to the man behind the popular youth basketball program that's held there each summer.
"He's a legend," Pastor Frank McCullough said of Nate "BoBo" Smalls, who came up with the idea for the Mount Olive Baptist Church Youth Basketball League and Junior NBA. "He's been working with the kids for a long time. They love him."
A short dedication ceremony will be held at the courts at 1 p.m. today.
Then, league organizers will hold sign-ups for the season, which starts Monday and runs through August.
There will also be an eight-team basketball tournament, called the McClyde-Parker Classic, honoring two Danville High School students who lost their lives last year. Devon "Von Von" McClyde, 16, was fatally shot at the park last June shortly after playing a basketball game, and D'nija Parker, 16, was killed in a car accident on Oct. 3.
The city recently spent about $85,000 to improve the basketball courts at the park, which also houses the municipal pool, the AMBUCS "sprayground" and the Boys and Girls Club of Danville. The project called for removing the existing basketball court, which had deteriorated, and converting two nearby tennis courts "that got zero usage" into basketball courts, said parks and public property Superintendent Steve Lane.
Lane said the city put down asphalt last fall and has since installed hoops, new fencing and lighting and bleacher pads for the existing bleachers. It will also put up a new electronic scoreboard that's on order.
Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said the city will add signs honoring Smalls near the courts.
"We greatly appreciate what he has provided to the youth of our community. It has given kids something constructive to do during the summer months," Eisenhauer said, adding he appreciates the efforts of Smalls, McCullough and other volunteers who "work with the children and mentor them on and off the court."
A Savannah, Ga., native, Smalls, 70, was a legendary pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns, the last Negro American Baseball League team. He moved to the area in 1969 after meeting his wife, Anita, at Danville Stadium.
"When I was coming up, we had people who took us under their wing and taught us how to play ball and kept us out of trouble," recalled Smalls, who was known as "Cantaloupe" at Beach High School. "When I played high school ball and pro baseball, I always said this is something I want to do — work with kids."
Smalls said that opportunity came along around 2010, when he got the idea for an organized league. McCullough and the late Pastor H.L. Reed of the Antioch Baptist Church also came on board.
"Our goal has always been to curb crime and violence and promote peace in the city of Danville," said McCullough, who along with Smalls and local NAACP President Ed Butler formed the Three Kings of Peace. The group holds peace marches in troubled neighborhoods and also mentors kids at several schools. "If we were going to do that, we needed to keep the kids busy during the summer."
Organizers have never had trouble filling the 12 slots on the 15 or 16 teams.
"We have close to 200 players and even more people who come out for the games," Smalls said.
Volunteers work with players on basketball fundamentals. Then at halftime, Smalls or one of the ministers will take the mic.
"A lot of the kids, they don't have a father figure," McCullough said. "Some come to the park hungry. We feed them and talk to them about respect and minding their parents. We try to steer them to stay in school and get an education. We even try to advocate for jobs. When they're around (Smalls) so much, they see he cares."
The cost to play in the league is $3 a person, which covers the cost of a "BoBo's Kids" T-shirt.
At today's event, there will be free food and entertainment by the Mount Olive church's co-ed dance club, called Critical Ambition, and a motorcycle show by the Danville Motorcycle Club.