Just a few years ago, Lincoln Terrace Park, a green expanse on the edge of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was overrun with weeds, prostitutes and drug dealers.
But these days, the 18-acre park is crowded on summer weekends as thousands of people flock there to watch their favorite players pass, shoot and score.
They are not gathering to watch basketball, though, or even soccer. The lure is netball, a game similar to basketball that is played almost exclusively by women. The sport is unknown to most New Yorkers, but is extremely popular in the West Indies.
”Netball brings people together,” said Patricia Gray, president of the United States Netball Association, which was formed about six years ago. ”These are folks who want to keep their culture strong.”
The emergence of netball is another small sign of the wave of diversity — propelled by the arrival of more than one million immigrants in the last two decades — that has transformed the city’s landscape, even down to the games New Yorkers play. Immigrant soccer leagues thrive throughout the city, Korean volleyball teams play in Flushing Meadows, Queens, and Pakistani cricketers compete in Marine Park, Brooklyn.
On a recent Sunday, several thousand people gathered at Lincoln Terrace Park to watch a dozen games that were part of a 36-team summerlong netball tournament sponsored by the Caribbean American Netball Association. The teams, with names like Hairoun, the Sharecroppers, the Tornadoes and Foreign Base, have players from Trinidad, Jamaica, St. Vincent, Guyana and other Caribbean countries. Spectators wore T-shirts with their countries’ colors, and some waved flags as they cheered their teams on.
West Indian lilts accentuated the conversations, and as the players warmed up, the sound of calypso and soca music boomed from cars lined up along the park. The smell of codfish and jerk chicken wafted from the food stands, and spectators opened bottles of Red Stripe, the Jamaican beer.
After the St. Lucia team defeated the squad from St. Vincent, the normally subdued St. Lucia supporters ran onto the court, hugging members of their team and dancing and screaming as they celebrated the victory.
”We’re re-creating our life from the islands,” said Jerry Rogers, who moved to Crown Heights 10 years ago from his native Trinidad. ”We love America, so we’re giving it part of us.”
And netball has transformed Lincoln Terrace Park, said Gailene Windsor of Brooklyn, a spokeswoman for the Caribbean American Netball Association. ”Netball sure did come to the rescue of that park,” she said. ”It’s a place to go meet people you haven’t seen in months.”
Thats all about netball sport!