Several teams in the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League started their seasons about a week late last week after league officials cracked down on a long-time residency rule that was never truly enforced before now.
The 43-year-old summer basketball league known as BNBL is — like all programs run by Boston Centers for Youth & Families — only for Boston residents because it’s funded by the city and its taxpayers.
But in past years, a player’s residency was only checked if it was challenged by another team during the course of the season. BCYF Director of Recreation, Sports and Fitness Ryan Fitzgerald said the policy was too hard to enforce once the season already started.
So this year BCYF officials required BNBL players to prove residency before the season started by showing a report card, birth certificate or another document that proved their address is in Boston — a process that delayed the start of the season for some teams.
“This is no different from what a lot of programs and leagues in the city require anyway,” Fitzgerald said. “We had many coaches and players and participants in the program voice concerns on the issue so we’ve taken steps to address it and minimize the infractions.”
While Fitzgerald said he hopes the missed games will be made up on off days, many teams and players a still irked.
“It’s very frustrating because I wanted to play basketball and I wanted to be with my team last week when we should’ve started,” Jaleel Bell of the Dorchester YMCA team said after his squad played its first game last Wednesday night at the Perkins Community Center in Dorchester.
“In Massachusetts you’re a Massachusetts player, if other people want to play its OK. We’re all playing basketball, it’s for the youth, we’re not doing anything dangerous, we’re not doing drugs; we’re playing basketball so it’s something positive.”
Dorchester YMCA coach, Andrew Angus agreed that the league should be open to everyone because it helps keeps kids off the streets.
“We also go down there and join their leagues too, it goes hand-in-hand, I think we’re Massachusetts it’s not anything else, we’re all one,” Angus said.
The former BNBL player, who won three MIAA state titles as a player with Charlestown High from 2000 to 2003, said competing against players from outside the city in the summer made him a better player during the school year.
“It kind of made the league a little better with people who come from all over to just play BNBL [from outside the city]," he said. “That’s just bringing different talent inside the city. You’re just playing everybody. So trying to keep it in the city you kind of take away a little bit but it’s what the city wants I guess.”
Fitzgerald, who played in the league himself as a youngster, said he sees both sides of the issue.
“I can certainly see that point of view,” he said. “As a young kid I was excited to play against all competition no matter where it came from. I get that. The only problem is this is a program run by the City of Boston with city resources so it becomes complicated about who we can provide services to.
“For every person that has [Bell and Angus’] opinion there is another one who feels that it should be City of Boston kids and that’s what the program was started for. I’m not saying either one is wrong but as it is currently constituted that’s what we have to do.”
Perkins Community Center coach Eric Bradshaw said the residency issue has been a problem since he started coaching BNBL 20 years ago. He said he doesn’t’ have a problem with cracking down on residency but said that that BCYF should start figuring out who can and can’t play earlier in the school year.
“Every year it’s always been the same thing,” he said. “I don’t know why it took so long to be honest with you but it’s been an issue for 20 years.”
Fitzgerald said they notified coaches and players of the new policy starting in May.
“We feel there was ample amount of time to get this information,” he said. “But I don’t begrudge anyone who had trouble and I certainly understand it takes more work to collect it. … We knew it might be a little bumpy this year. When things are new and different, especially when they were done the same way for such a long time, there are hiccups.
“But I think next year when people are prepared for it I anticipate it to be a lot more smooth.”
One of the league’s founders, Alfreda J. Harris, said she would’ve liked to see the policy shift happen years ago.
“It’s very simple, the program originated 43 years ago and it’s for Boston residence,” said Harris, who is a school committee member in Boston. “The money comes from city of Boston tax payers, it’s always been that way. It’s better to get it clear now than wait till the end of the season when teams lost to teams because they had illegitimate players.
“I think it was a good idea for Ryan [Fitzgerald] to clamp down and get the paperwork in at the beginning of the season.”
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