Volunteer spearheading Berrian Park project hopes basketball court serves as ‘bridge’ for kids

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Tracy Lewis goes up for a shot during a pickup basketball game at Berrian Park in Quincy.

QUINCY — Kasey Schuster grew up near 14th and Oak and remembers spending much of his childhood on the basketball court at Berrian Park on Quincy’s northwest side.

“We would walk down here and play, and when I eventually moved out of the neighborhood, I would still come down here and play,” he said. “On Sundays during the summer, there would always seem to be about 200 people down here playing or watching basketball.

“I’ve watched the court deteriorate over the years. We’ve used washers on the backboard to help fix it or level it out. We’ve always put new nets on the rims and paid for them out of our own pocket. We would paint the court for tournaments. And we always thought, ‘It sure would be nice to have a new court down here.’”

That day is coming.

Schuster, who owns his own construction company, and about 20 volunteers have worked with the Quincy Park District for the past year and a half to build two courts just to the south and east of the current court. 

The Park District has spent $42,430 to date on materials such as lumber, concrete, rebar and gravel at the site. Volunteers have provided all of the labor. Concrete was poured and formed at the site last month. Basketball goals and lights soon will be installed. Schuster hopes the first games will be played later this summer.

Working with the Park District

Schuster, friends Drew Forrest and Jayson Bennett from LifePoint Church in Quincy approached the Quincy Park District in February 2020 and asked for assistance at a meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

“They said, ‘Hey, we’re construction people. We’d like to build a new court, we’re going to raise the money, and we’re going to take care of the whole ball of wax. We just need your blessing,’” said John Frankenhoff, board president at the time.

“Rome (Frericks, executive director with the Park District) had met with them prior to the meeting. After they talked, the board said, ‘Sure, knock yourselves out.’ They told us we’d have no financial investment in this at all. The only thing was basically trusting them to do what we said. We’ll have to look at the final plans, and all if it has to be done and approved through Rome. They just couldn’t do it their way.

“They were totally cool about it. They seemed like legit upstanding guys.” 

The goal was to raise $75,000. Then the pandemic hit.

“It kind of squashed all of our fundraising efforts,” Schuster said.

Frankenhoff believed the project was worthwhile to continue pursuing. He had seen pictures on a Facebook page of how the court would be unplayable with standing water after a rain shower. He visited the site and saw a crack that ran down the middle of the court.

“That court had kind of fallen off our radar as a facility that needed to be looked at for improvements every so many years,” Frankenhoff said. “So if (volunteers) couldn’t raise the money, my opinion was, it needed to be done. If they can’t raise the money, then (the Park District is) going to pay for it. I didn’t realize the court had gotten to such a bad condition, and I don’t think it was on the radar for the rest of the board.

“Well, there was some hem-hawing around, and I just went for it all. I said, ‘If we’re not going to work with this group, then let’s just do everything ourselves.’ Had they approached us the first time and asked if we would provide the material and they provided the labor, we would have jumped on that deal. Finally, by mid-summer (of 2020) we were locked in.”

Schuster’s construction company graded the land. Concrete work was done by Emrick Brothers Construction. Sidewalks from the parking lot will be added to the site. Additional sets of bleachers will be brought in.

A look at Berrian Park’s new court, left, and old court.

‘It’s all levels, all skills’

Tracy Lewis tries to get to the Berrian court on Sunday nights for pickup games. He’s been playing there for nearly 15 years.

“Every Sunday, from June to August, you’ll get 30 to 35 guys who want to play and another 50 to 100 who just want to watch,” he said. “I’m still trying. I love the competitiveness. Everybody down here is kind of barking and talking and everything, but it’s all in good nature. We all know each other.”

Players who visit the park for Sunday night pickup games range in age from high school students to old-timers like Lewis, who is in his mid-50s. During a recent game, the team Lewis played for was losing soundly to a younger group of players. The scorekeeper told Lewis his team was losing because the other team had outrebounded them “about 80 to 30” on the offensive boards.

“I think 80 to 30 is about the difference in age,” Lewis said with a laugh. “It’s all levels, all skills. Doesn’t make any difference. You want to come play? It’s been here for a long time.”

Ray Humphrey is another older player who gets in his licks with the younger crowd. He organizes leagues for high school players during the summer, and he appreciates the community atmosphere created when games are played on Sunday nights.

“I remember coming down here, and there were weeds growing in the middle of the court,” he said. “But we pulled the weeds, we painted the court ourselves and we got people out here. This is just what we do.

“This court touches people and inspires people. If you cause trouble, you will be asked to leave. We respect this court too much. We want everyone to feel comfortable here. We welcome everybody. We’re going to protect the guys. That’s just how we run things here.”

Schuster wants the basketball court to be the same safe haven it was for him as a kid.

“I grew up with my friends on this court,” he said. “There are a lot of fatherless homes in Quincy, but you can come find people here who want to have a positive influence on people. 

“This is more than a court. I want this place to serve as a bridge for kids in the northwest part of town to get away from some of the areas they shouldn’t be hanging out. Let’s focus our energy on something positive. Let’s just go hang out and have some fun.”

A look at a pickup basketball game on Berrian Park’s old court, looking to the north, while standing on the recently poured concrete on the new court.

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