Milwaukee's Midnight Basketball League Offers More Than Just The Sport

Nov 12, 2018

Milwaukee's Midnight Basketball League is wrapping up its latest season. But the program's impact on the lives of the players is much bigger than having a safe place to play basketball.

On a recent Wednesday night, groups of young men filed into Bradley Technology and Trade High School on Milwaukee’s south side for the Midnight Basketball League. The first game of the night was set to begin at 8, followed by games at 9, 10 and 11.

One of the players, Kiantis Pierce, first got involved with the league after learning about it from his father — a popular basketball figure in Milwaukee.

“He told me and my brother about it. He trained us to play basketball and he wanted us to come here and basically try to take it over as much as we can. We show up to every game, well almost every game. We haven’t missed a season yet,” Pierce said.

Pierce loves the basketball program and enjoys the atmosphere. He also thinks this type of program matters for young men of color in Milwaukee.

“The value to Milwaukee is actually to keep us out of the street late at night. That’s actually a big problem for dudes my age, especially African-American males today, period – anywhere. It’s hard out here, you know. Everybody wants to go down the wrong road and think it’s cool when it’s not, so this is a good thing to help us learn from it,” he explains.

The Midnight Basketball League started in March 2017 at Bradley Tech. It's one of three programs that sprang out of MPS C.A.R.E.S, which stands for Community And Recreation Engaging Students. It’s a community outreach and programming initiative aimed at improving community conditions for Milwaukee’s children and young adults.

Midnight Basketball League's South Side players check in to an enrichment session before their game.
Credit Teran Powell

But the midnight league isn’t just about getting guys together to play basketball.

“Really, the focus of the program was providing them with enrichment opportunities — connections with job services, connections with job trainings, connections with financial services, connections with colleges if that was their path,” explains Andrew Rossa, the recreation coordinator.

Rossa said in order to provide the athletes with these services, it was important that they had input.

“What we did was we engaged with some of our partners in the community and asked the question of the young men playing in the league what things they need help with," he said. "Where they need guidance, what are those resources we can bring to them, and sort of really tailored the enrichment side of the league around what the needs of the athletes are, as opposed to us telling them what they need.”

According to Rossa, the enrichment has proven successful. So, each night before players start their game, they head to an enrichment session that focuses on any number of areas that they might need assistance with — the sessions are mandatory.

When the midnight league started, each season had about 90 to 100 guys ages 18 to 25. Now, there’s a second location on the North Side at Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education — and the numbers are equally as high.

Mark Briggs (left) talks to a few North Side league players during an enrichment session.
Credit Teran Powell

Mark Briggs, the supervisor for the North Side league, thinks the program is "a jewel for the young men to be a part of. They’re bringing their families to the games. And I think guys are embracing it as a brotherhood.”

Patrick Rogers, a former player and now coach, said he thinks this program is invaluable to youth in the city. 

"For this time frame that the games are being held, this age group typically would be out running the streets, doing something they probably don’t have any business doing. So, for them to have somewhere they can get away from the real world for a few hours is tremendous,” Rogers explains. 

Midnight Basketball League is a free program for young men ages 17-25 who are non-high school students. The league starts its next season in early 2019.

Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.

Do you have a question about race in Milwaukee that you'd like WUWM's Teran Powell to explore? Submit it below.

_