There is no legitimate place to play basketball in the southern half of Capitol Hill and Hill East.
The area’s most active outdoor basketball courts, at the Watkins Recreation Center, have been used as a storage ground for construction equipment being used to renovate the combination football/baseball playing field. We are talking serious equipment, and serious damage to the basketball court.
There is no reason for this court to be mistreated in such a way: There is plenty of vacant space on the roads surrounding the court to store most of these items; including a huge plot of oft-unused parking spots and land taken up by the International Graduate University. Instead, with the equipment stored on what was once the best and most active court on the Hill, the playing surface is likely ruined and pitted, a knee injury waiting to happen, like the cracked mess at the nearby Payne Rec Center.
The new field for baseball and football is over-the-top nice. I am glad the kids in my neighborhood and adults who play softball on Sundays have a suitable field for their athletic endeavors. But when I asked construction workers in my broken Spanish if there were any plans for reconstructing the basketball court, which draws dozens of people for pickup games during warm weather, I was told they were not aware of any of those plans. D.C. Parks and Recreation did not respond to my e-mails.
There are disgusting, filthy, afterthoughts of basketball courts located under the Southeast Freeway, as well as a the occasional half-court dotted around the neighborhood and full courts in and around Kingman Park and Near Northeast. But pick-up basketball, which goes with half-smokes and partisan bickering as a Washington tradition, requires a couple full courts in decent shape and in a central, safe, pleasant gathering spot. Considering Capitol Hill is one of the denser D.C. hoods and is overrun with athletic high-schoolers and weekend warrior young professionals, it is reasonable to assume the population is deserving of a place to play basketball, year-round.
The Watkins Court was that very spot all of last year, but being used as a bulldozer storage unit in 2011, there is now a void in the neighborhood. It was not the nicest basketball court in the city, but it did its job, offering me a workout and introductions to perhaps 100 people I normally would have never met. Initially I thought the court would be ready to go once springtime came, repaved and with soft new rims. I sincerely still hope this is still the future of Watkins, a renovation up to the standards seen at Cleveland Park’s Macomb Playground, which features snap-back rims and bathrooms. But I am not holding my breath.