In the West Willow neighborhood, no sign says it's summer like the one Derrick Jackson puts in front of West Willow Park
on Tuesday mornings.
The white sign, which reads: "Ballin' in the Willow tonight,'' attracts legions of players from this basketball-crazy community
for a weekly 3-on-3 tournament that gives every child in the neighborhood a chance for bragging rights.
The eight-week tournament kicked off June 26, and director Jackson knows from experience that the fields will grow each
week until the final installment in late August.
Part of the beauty of the tournament is that it offers something for everyone. Players are divided into two categories
according to age, and each week, teams compete in a double-elimination tournament, where wins are tallied up over the course
of the summer to determine the "Best in the West.''
But some players, like 15-year-old Belleville High student Kourea Hayes, place more emphasis on winning the weekly tournaments
than the season-long competition.
"It's all about the day-to-day,'' Hayes said. "If you do it that day, you can talk 'til next week.''
For 13-year-old David Evans, who won the 13-and-under competition last year, it's just the opposite.
"I change it up every Tuesday because I don't want to play with the same people,'' Evans said. "You get to work on teamwork
with new people.''
Jackson says the games are run by the players and are played according to the park rules, such as the grass, not the white
line, serving as the out-of-bounds line.
Games are played make-it-take-it style up to 12 points, with field goals counting as 1 and 3-pointers as 2. Players call
their own fouls and can change teams from week to week without penalty.
"We kind of monitor it and watch the scores, but they call their own fouls,'' Jackson said. "We didn't really want to change
And because Tyler Road, which borders the south side of the park, separates the Willow Run and Van Buren school districts,
competition for bragging rights can get fierce.
"It's fun and it keeps you out of trouble,'' Evans said. "You can be up here playing instead of being on the streets.''
Ballin' in the Willow is part of the New West Willow Neighborhood Association and Parents Together Youth Summer Program,
which is intended to provide positive activities for the area youth.
"It gives the kids something to look forward to and is an avenue for them to expend some of the energy that they have,''
Linda Mealing said. "They can use it positively and stay in connection with the kids they go to school with. And it's in a
safe place where they can get together, so they do look forward to it.''
One of the reasons the program has such a positive effect, according to Mealing, is Jackson.
"I think Derrick does a tremendous job of being able to reach the kids,'' Mealing said. "He's able to talk to them. He
knows what's going on, and I can see that every time I go down there. He really relates to them.''
Jackson, who lives in West Willow, is proud to have created an event that not only has a positive influence on kids, but
brings the entire community together.
"Every Tuesday I put the sign out in the morning,'' Jackson said. "They see that and they know it's time to start for the