Jamie Barrett, lifelong Chestertown resident and owner of the Big Mixx Unisex Salon at 100 Philosophers Terrace, has played a crucial role over the last year in the effort to restore the Ajax Basketball court to its historic two-basket configuration — when people of all ages frequented the court once considered the Rucker Park of Chestertown.
Barrett is a community leader and his salon has served as an information center in the Black community for over 25 years. His recent efforts garnered a large portion of 300 petition signatures to restore the court to its heyday, when there was a basket at both ends of the court.
“People of all ages would come from all over to play the guys in Chestertown at Ajax,” Barrett said in an interview with the Kent Pilot on Monday. “These were some really good players that I thought should be playing in the NBA; there were some amazing players that came through here.”
Growing up on Calvert Street, Barrett said he and his cousin Jabar would walk the railroad tracks to the court every day in the summer to watch and play, and all age groups participated.
“That is where I learned to play basketball,” Barrett said. “All age groups got a chance to play.”
The town removed one of the baskets in 2011 and the popularity of the court dropped dramatically.
Interviews with Big Mixx customers over several days reflected consistent support to restore Ajax to its historic configuration. But there is frustration with town leaders. Several times patrons remarked that the town raised millions to buy and renovate the Chestertown Marina but has stonewalled a project important to the Black community. They say town leaders have given great lip service to race relations over the last year but have been unwilling to take a stand and hold a vote on the Chestertown Recreation Commission’s current proposal to restore Ajax to a two-basket court.
Those opposed to the court want to keep the court at just one basket and the council has tabled a vote on the CRC’s current recommendations.
Barrett said feedback he’s received from his clientele placed great hope in restoring the court to its original configuration with access for all ages.
“Anyone can set up one basket in their backyard or drive,” Barrett said. “It’s simply not the same. Why would you come downtown for that?”
“We need a basketball court downtown along with all the other courts we have,” he said.
He also said the efforts to place a tot-lot at Ajax are not in kind with the court’s history and that plans to create a playground at Wilmer just 300 yards away from Ajax would provide an adequate place for small children.
“Originally, there was never a tot-lot at Ajax,” he said.
He said the future expansion of the Gilchrest Rail Trail to Foxley Manor would serve as safer passage for younger kids. He said Gateway Park, which has been coined Royal Farms Court, is less safe to get to because of the traffic conditions.
Barrett said Ajax was a crucial part of Chestertown’s African American history and that the town council should take up a vote on the Chestertown Recreation Commission’s proposal that was almost a year in the making and submitted to the town council two months ago, where it has languished without a vote. The CRC’s plan calls for restoring the court to two hoops.
“I want the mayor and council to vote on this and approve the plan submitted by the recreation commission,” Barrett said. “It’s just one more court and we need two hoops; this has simply taken too long.”
He said the court would provide another outlet for teens in Chestertown, especially in the summer when jobs and other programs for youth are scarce.