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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
The teens learned their favorite hangout spot was slated for demolition when they came to shoot hoops and saw the bulldozer plowing through it.
A roped-off pile of dirt and a dump truck sat where they used to slam-dunk.
"I immediately took a picture and sent it to my friends," recalled Nathan Scott, 17, a senior at Westerville North High School.
"All we could think is 'What is happening?'"
It might be too late to save the mini-hoops basketball court at Hoff Woods Park, which will soon be replaced by a pickleball court, but Scott and his friends turned their shock and anger into a learning experience.
They got involved in local politics.
Scott made an online petition asking for a new court and gathered nearly 1,000 signatures.
He and senior Trent McFarland, 18, spoke at a Dec. 5 Westerville City Council meeting on behalf of their classmates. Though the city hasn't yet committed to building another court, the pair said they are hopeful based on conversations they have had with elected officials.
A small group of teens and the city's Parks and Recreation Department recently established a Teen Advisory Board to weigh in on other decisions and to plan events. The goal is to keep teens informed and involved in local government, while also providing more teen-friendly activities throughout the city.
"It started with the mini-hoops, but it turned into so much more," Scott said.
The less-than-8-foot-tall hoops on a half-court were popular among all ages for fast-paced games and dunking, even though they were designed for young kids, they said. Hoff Woods Park, located near the intersection of Maxtown Road and North State Street, also is close to restaurants for teens who can't drive.
The court became a gathering space for people of all athletic abilities, they said.
"It's disappointing," McFarland said. "I don't think they even knew we used it."
Westerville spokeswoman Christa Dickey said that removing the mini-hoops in November was part of a long-term, $1.5-million improvement plan for the 40-acre park that has been referenced in public meetings and online.
The plan includes adding two baseball fields, four soccer fields, a new entryway, a large parking lot, an open play area, trails, sidewalks and decor.
Removing the basketball court was necessary to make room for pickleball, Dickey said.
A dedicated pickleball court became a high priority after 65 residents requested it because of the sport's growing popularity and a lack of exclusive facilities, according to a letter sent to city officials in August.
Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, according to the USA Pickleball Association. Three-fourths of its core players nationwide are 55 and older.
Officials hope to solicit more input from younger residents in the future by posting signs, advisory board meetings, social media posts and communicating with representatives from high school newspapers.
"What was most meaningful, to us, was learning better ways to reach them," Dickey said.
As a compromise, adjustable hoops will be installed on Hoff Woods Park's full-sized basketball court this spring. Residents must call the city to have them adjusted.
It's a start, but teens said new mini-hoops on a smaller court are still their goal.
For now, they're just happy their voices are being heard.
"A lot of kids are afraid to express their opinions because they're younger and more inexperienced than the people making the decisions," McFarland said. "I've learned we do have a voice and we can impact change, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there to do it."
Westerville students can get involved with the Teen Advisory Board by calling 614-901-6500 or emailing email@example.com
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