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From Maryland to Merseyside, the concept of a midnight basketball league is thriving in Liverpool. With 100s of players signing up for the free to play programme, ran by Toxteth El8te with funding from Merseyside Police.
Hosted at the LJMU sports building, anyone age 12-16, as well as 16 and over, now have the opportunity to play basketball for free.
Labelled an ‘overnight success’ by its founder, the city’s Midnight League is going from strength to strength. With the scheme’s first ranked league having just been launched, which adds a competitive element.
In a lively city centre setting between 9pm-10:45pm, participants have flooded the courts since it started back in September 2023. Rookies, self proclaimed MVPs or anyone interested, can play top to two games per night.
Co-founder Emile Coleman is excited to see growth and development for the grass roots initiative, he said: “We’re looking forward to the expansion of the league format, we used the starting weeks of our Midnight League programme to draw up a large player pool, so that it was accessible for anyone.
“We didn’t want anyone to feel like they were put off and couldn’t be part of a team. So the open format has helped everyone forge relationships and now start teams together.
“We can really see a community is starting to build around the sessions.’’
Toxteth El8te was launched in 2022 and the programme pride themselves on being a beacon in the community, delivering high-level basketball, which is inclusive of everyone. All sessions are free of charge, with the programme ensuring a safe place for anyone to socialise and stay active.
Originating from Glenarden, Maryland, the midnight league initiative was implemented to tackle the groiwng crime rate and anti-social behaviour. Between 1990 and 1994, crime rates dropped in the founding city, proving the model successful.
With sport being such a strong part of Liverpool’s identity, Coleman knows how important it is for the community to offer opportunities.
He added: ‘’We are living in dire times economically, and sadly more so in this city. Poverty levels are more stark than ever and having something that anyone can access for zero cost is phenomenal.
“One thing we noticed is that sport has a financial barrier and we have manged to remove that, which is something we’re proud of.’’
Funding comes from Operation Stonehaven, ran by Merseyside Police in an effort to combat drug dealing. Through the Midnight League, young adults are also being steered from crime to the basketball court.
Emile admits sustainability could have proved an issue, although receiving a year’s funding is something he described as ‘amazing’.
He added: “It was a no-brainer. I contacted Merseyside Police about basketball as an intervention and the dramatic effect it can have as a tool.
“We took a lot of the successful aspects of Midnight Leagues in the US, which is something I’ve been obsessed with since the 90’s and it had never been done before in Liverpool.’’
With similar events set up in London and Birmingham, it hasn’t proved easy to set up in Liverpool, with Emile addressing the city’s lack of facilities. Despite this, the league’s potential seems to be exponential.
Emile added: ’’The environment is amazing, it’s fun. It’s almost like the Wizard of Oz, you pull back the curtains and there’s this wild thing happening on two courts, with mountains of young men and women playing!
“It’s a really good model of what can be rolled out nationally.’’
With Liverpool’s new league leaping to new heights weekly, Coleman urges anyone to get involved by registering.