Athletes Booted Off Gulfport Streets

A basketball goal is set up on Connie Drive. It gives the Spencer girls and their neighbors a chance to work on their games. And it gives Mom a sense of relief.

"I would rather them play right here," Kathy Taylor said, "so I can watch them."

Whenever a car comes by, the teenagers head to the curb.

"It's like this all the time," said Keira Spencer as she waited for a car to drive past her basketball court.

Her sister Monique said, "As long as we know how to get out of the street, we ought to be allowed to play basketball on the street."

But on Tuesday, the Gulfport City Council reworded one of its ordinances. Basketball, hockey, and other games are no longer supposed to be played on city streets.

"I don't think that's fair," Keira said.

Gulfport Police Chief Steve Barnes said fairness wasn't the issue.

"Our concern in addressing this problem is strictly for public safety," he said.

Gulfport leaders have received dozens of calls from people worried about kids playing in streets. So, the council passed a new ordinance, and it made the police department responsible for keeping basketball goals and basketball players off city streets.

"Anytime that you have kids playing in the street, there is always a concern for their safety," the chief said.

"I disagree," Mrs. Taylor said. "But that's the city."

The way the ordinance is worded, hop scotch games played by young children on Gulfport sidewalks are also against the law.

One councilman who voted for the change admitted the amendment was probably overkill. That's probably why Chief Barnes said he didn't imagine his officers would crack down on many hop scotch hoodlums.

"We typically don't get complaints when they're playing hop scotch on the sidewalk," he said.

However, police will encourage basketball players to obey the new law, so cars don't have to share city roads with athletes.

Playing games on Gulfport streets, or putting basketball goals, hockey nets and other sports equipment along a roadway is a misdemeanor offense. For now, the police department has no plans to ticket people. Officers will simply educate people about the change in the law.