Chestertown Recreation Commission Chair Jim Bogden is now moving to restrict the Ajax Basketball Court to ages 15 and under and post signs of the restrictions at the court.
Email documents also show a move by Bogden to limit discussion to only youth at a proposed meeting for June 8.
The move to age-restrict the court is a result of increasing pressure from Tidewater Trader Publisher Carla Johnson and a group of 30 people she claims to represent, which include business owners and residents downtown who oppose restoring the old Ajax Basketball Court to its original two-hoop configuration — when the court was in its heyday and frequented by Black residents of all ages.
The move is a change from the original plan the CRC submitted to the council on April 5, which was in the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer that launched the effort to save the court and honor the mission of the comprehensive plan that calls for “improving recreational opportunities for all ages.”
Though the court would be designed to attract youth players, the original CRC plan made no mention of an age restriction.
In 2019 the CRC had suggested a complete removal of the court but an effort to save the court was spawned during discussions of the Black Lives Matter murals in the summer of 2020 following world-wide protests of the murder of George Floyd.
“Grass-roots’ backlash from the community was immediate and intense,” said the CRC report to the town council on April 5.
A “Save Ajax Pocket Park” movement began, complete with lawn signs and a petition with 200 signatures, the CRC report said.
The CRC’s final plan called for a junior high size court with two baskets to attract youth but there were no age restrictions mentioned in the report. The only restrictions in the CRC plan excluded regional and league play.
Justin Munson, 35, of Chestertown said the CRC’s plan to consider age restrictions dismisses what the court means to the Black community.
“You cannot divorce the story of Chestertown from the history that is Ajax Park,” he said in an interview at the Big Mixx Unisex Salon on Philosophers Terrace. “So implementing these restrictions absolutely destroys the history we all know about Ajax.”
“This is another way to…keep black people away from the downtown area,” he said. “Limiting the court to 15 and under means that I can’t take my son because I’m over 15. For those of us who remember the history of Ajax it absolutely was a place for families and where I found some of my first mentors when it came to playing basketball and getting into sports. The people who are intimately connected to the community are aware of what Ajax was and what it does mean to us.”
When asked if the 30 people led by Carla Johnson should reveal themselves, Munson said they already had.
“I think they have already revealed themselves,” he said. “Just not in a way that you and I would expect people who move with integrity to reveal themselves. They reveal themselves to have a certain type of animosity toward a demographic that doesn’t fit into the community…they want to portray.”
“If I were a 46-year-old white man with a boat I would absolutely feel accommodated and I would feel that I fit here,” he said.
The Kent Pilot interviewed other members of the Black community during a visit to the Big Mixx who echoed Munson’s sentiments.
The Kent Pilot reached out several times to contact Carla Johnson, and her lawyer, Charles “Chip” Macleod, to try and interview constituents who she claims to represent. Those calls have gone unreturned.