By Asia Nail
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter
It’s a beautiful sight at Savage Park: kids running in the grass, families cooking out at the pavilion and the biggest summer basketball tournament in Ohio.
The City Park League is a group dedicated to giving the underserved opportunities in sports and neighborhood clean-up during the summer months.
There are two community benefits the City Park League is notable for. First, it is the biggest outdoor summer basketball league in Ohio (hosted at Savage Park). Second, their city-wide youth cleanup ‘Beautification Project’ pays local kids ages five to 15 to revitalize the community neighborhoods.
Montrice Terry is the current director of Toledo’s City Park League. You may remember him as ‘Big Treece’ from his radio days at the Juice 107.3. Terry laughs saying, “As a public announcer and show host, I now realize, I turned what you call a ‘Class Clown’ personality into a professional ‘Industry Host’.”
Terry proudly represents the Junction community. This neighborhood is bound on the west at Brown Avenue, on the east at Division Street, on the north at Dorr Street, and on the south at Klondike Street. “It’s so important to me that people know the area that I was raised in because there’s a misconception that you will not have a promising future or do good work in your community when you’re from certain streets or neighborhoods,” explains Terry.
Terry is a graduate of Sylvania Southview Highschool (Go Cougars!). After graduation he went to Illinois to pursue his football career, earning his associates degree from Joliet Junior College. Terry went on to attend historically black Tuskegee University in Alabama where he earned his bachelor’s of history and sociology, as well as the opportunity to win a national football championship title.
The black college football national championship is a championship won by the best football teams among historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States.
The Golden Tuskegee Tigers defeated the Winston-Salem State Rams, the 2000 CIAA football champions, in the 2000 Pioneer Bowl. The 12 – 0 win over Winston-Salem gave the Golden Tigers their first 12 – 0, undefeated and untied season in the history of football at Tuskegee University, making Terry one of the only black college national football champions living here in Toledo Ohio.
After college Terry worked in the automotive industry as a part of the Human Resources team for Hyundai. Still, he stayed involved and committed to community outreach and public work.
Summer basketball tournaments
In 2000, Toledo’s Libbey Highschool Cowboys had great success making it to the state playoffs with longtime boys basketball team coach Leroy Bates. At the time, Toledo City Councilman Larry Sykes and former Democratic Mayor, Carty Finkbeiner, asked Coach Bates ways to keep the community engaged and out of trouble during the summer months. Bates enlisted the help of his two assistant coaches, Carlton Mathis and George Mitchell. “They all put their heads together and this was the start to our annual summer basketball tournament,” shares Terry.
The tournaments reduced gang violence and negative behavior within the community noticeably decreased each summer. Sadly in 2014 George Mitchell, affectionately called “Uncle,” passed away. It was at this time that Terry took the helm of the league.
Terry recalls saying to himself, “Basketball games draw everyone to one place, at one time. We need to get our message and resources out to the community at our tournaments.”
As the word spread and the popularity of the summer basketball league increased, the tournament championship game aired on BCSN in 2015. After the game, an invested community partner paid the local youth to clean up the park. The rest is history.
In 2016, The CPL established a city-wide cleanup program. “We pay kids $5 per full garbage bag. During this self-funded summer project we teach participating kids fiscal money management every Saturday at 7 a.m. Kids also learn time management skills, as they are expected to be on time.
“We often protest and march but no one ever shows the community how to get the desired results. We inform every-day people with effective means to create lasting change,” says Terry.
CPL’s co-ed adult summer basketball leagues are more than vehicles to hone athletic skills. The league also serves as a space for social-emotional development, providing a place for families to share resources and tools. These tournaments are bridging the gap between research and grassroots implementation.
A Five-step approach
Basketball is part of urban culture and lifestyle and community involvement always leads the way. Adopting the “it takes a village” approach, the CIty Park League believes the more people are involved, the farther their reach.
The most successful movements often focus on breaking a “big picture” issue into actionable goals. As an example, Terry shared a five-step approach to reduce at-risk behaviors in neighborhoods through family and friend outreach:
- Parents find out who your kids’ friends are and with whom they are feuding.
- Build a relationship among said friends’ parents.
- Have conversations and bridge gaps.
- Let your children see you cultivate these new relationships.
- Repeat for young cousins, nieces, nephews and other family/friends.
The Six Degrees of Separation theory contends that we are all connected to each other by six or fewer acquaintances. The truth is, in the Black and Brown communities in Toledo the connection is many fewer degrees than six.
“It’s worth it to contextualize steps that may truly help someone. So many of us spend more time picking up our phones, than picking up our youth. If we take it back to basics, we can regain control of the senseless shootings,” says Terry.
Terry and his team created an acronym for the work they do: H.E.R.E. ME.
Help. Educate. Restore. Empower. My Environment.
As a part-time host and eligible bachelor, Terry brings good energy and a smile saying, “HERE ME single ladies, your presence is also valued within our grassroots efforts.”
Let’s face it, both men and women play a vital role in family communication. The City Park League believes parents and community leaders have to model the behavior they want to see from our youth.
“Us parents have to do our best to reduce the senseless shootings from occurring. My young 14-year-old little homie, Royce Chatman, was only a freshman at Start High School and was gunned down last week. He would have turned 15 on April 5. This is the fourth child under the age of 20 we lost this month in Toledo to gun violence,” shares Terry regretfully.
CPL has hosted forums where children under the age of 10 have expressed their fears surrounding gun violence in their schools. Terry says, “I saw what the basketball tournaments did for our community. I saw what it did for my life. I saw that it saved lives. So we decided to try to utilize that as a vehicle for change.”
They got creative by bringing the resources and services people in our communities need to league basketball games. What is nice is the City Park League connects people in a recreational and leisurely kind of way.
Cultivating life skills
Everyone has building blocks or steps they must take in their lives before gaining overall perspective. So many young people in our communities are addicted to pills and using drugs recreationally. Kids are also struggling with the virtual/hybrid schooling and the disconnection of social interaction. In the Black and Brown community, social interaction is a priority.
Terry is currently working with the Ohio governor’s office on a template for teaching de-escalation and confrontational techniques to the community. “People don’t even argue anymore we just shoot,” says Terry with a sigh.
A simple difference of opinion can lead to major violence. De-escalation training is a must.
‘All the beautiful ladies make noise’, for instance, is an example of a security measure MCs take to keep crowds engaged.
The City Park League’s youth programs also teach kids alternatives to negative behavior and violence by offering both social and personal development activities. The goal is to unite efforts in areas such as education, housing, infrastructure, jobs, public safety and others to create a holistic approach to lifting the community. It makes sense to address these issues in concert, “We listen to what people say they need, and we empower them through community connection, to then create their own solutions,” shares Terry.
The City Park League does a good job evaluating what’s going on in our neighborhoods, what’s needed, determines where they can make an impact, then they measure that impact.
Stronger community through partnership
The parents and adults play a big role in mentoring the youth.
Gun violence will be declared a public health crisis and will be tackled in new ways by a new group. It’s called the Mayor’s Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence.
Terry will be helping JoJuan Armour, coordinator for the Mayor’s Initiative, to Reduce Gun Violence. Terry is helping Armour focus on things like mental health and domestic violence, and trying to address these issues before they turn into gun violence.
The City Park League’s ideas emerge from the Black community, rather than being developed for it by external forces. “We bring community leaders together on issues important to us,” says Terry.
Although preferred, in person activities are not the only ways to stay connected to the City Park League’s events. Interactive content is updated daily on CPL’s social media outlets driving participation amongst both parents and youth. “I try to keep it relatable,” says Terry.
What can the community do? You can help by volunteering because safety is always a number one concern. You can also donate money to help pay the kids when they participate in community cleanups.
Bonding from shared experiences among the youth in our community reduces bullying and violence. To participate or become a sponsor follow Montrice Terry for community updates on Facebook @CityPark League. All events meet social distancing guidelines and best practices to keep families safe.
“When you work for your purpose, profits come. Profits aren’t always monetary. Anytime I am acknowledged by my community it is priceless,” explains Terry.
Terry was recently acknowledged anonymously by McDonald’s #blackandpositivelygolden campaign in March 2021.
Black & Positively Golden® is a movement to uplift our communities. To help individuals and organizations take action to revive, protect and strengthen our culture. To use education and entrepreneurship to help build the next generation of Black Excellence. And to tell stories of truth, power, and pride.
When asked how it felt to start the new year being recognized by the McDonald’s corporation for his hard work and dedication, Terry says, “I’m Loving it. Bhhad-Dup-Bop-Bop -Bop-Bopahh!”