COLUMBIA — The sound of basketballs swishing, shoes squeaking and fans cheering signaled the start of Moonlight Hoops at Douglass Park on Wednesday night.
As league play begins for the 20th year, cooperation between the community and the Columbia Police Department's Community Services Unit proves vital in creating a fun and safe athletic environment.
“We want to show the people that although we are law enforcement, we are apart of this community as well, and we want to assist in giving people a positive environment within the community, through programs such as Moonlight Hoops,” officer Mike Hayes said.
In the summer of 1989, Moonlight Hoops was started by Tracy Edwards and Scott Williams of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department in order to provide a platform for kids to stay out of trouble.
“We needed something for the kids to do,” Edwards said. “We started out having the league at midnight, in order to keep the kids off the street, and to bring them together in the game of basketball.”
Although the number of problems in the Douglass Park area has declined, Hayes said a police presence is still needed in order to uphold a safe environment at the games.
“There use to be more negative influences at the park, but that doesn’t seem to be much of a problem of late," Hayes said. "We’re just out here to do some work within the community and take care of the small percentage of people we have problems with."
The Community Services Unit also assists in helping out with Douglass Little League Baseball, as well as Heritage Weekend, which celebrates the opening of the park in May.
“We try and come down and support all other activities or leagues in the park, and encourage others to come up with programs to utilize that park for what it was made for,” Hayes said.
The night was short Wednesday. Thunderstorms rolled in toward the end of the first round of games, and everybody headed home early.
The Moonlight Hoops Basketball League consists of youth games Tuesday nights from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and adult games Wednesday nights from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.