“The Playground” helped mold generations of youth
GEORGETOWN SC — Drive along the shortcut Black River Road near Georgetown Memorial Hospital and you’ll pass by “The Playground.” It used to also be called “The Canteen.”
“It was the only place in Georgetown County where kids could go and be safe,” Jerry Gamble said.
He’s talking about generations of black kids in the neighborhoods nearby. That was in the days of segregation, from the 1950s and on to the 1980s, where kids could go to an outdoor basketball court.
There was also a canteen on the grounds, and the “Baruch Playschool” that provided programs for younger kids.
“Everybody played at that court,” Gamble said. “A lot of players went on to the pros. Some were derailed because of alcohol and drugs.”
Gamble listed Raeford Johnson as the number one person who came from The Playground.
Little kids would hang from the monkey bars or sit on them, watching the bigger kids. Sometimes, they’d go get a soda and be able to keep the change or buy themselves a soda.
Gamble is working to gather memories of The Playground, The Canteen and the kids who played there for a book and a Web site. He’s looking for stories about the players, the good times, and the successes in college and professional ball that many Georgetown kids achieved.
He hopes people will give an accounting of their time spent at what is today called “Baruch Park.”
Give a name, nickname, and accounting of each person. He also wants people to rank their favorite or best ball players for each 10-year period, and then Gamble will compile a list of the overall top players.
“Tommy Smith ran that playground, the athletics side of it.”
Kids could play basketball, ping pong, and shoot pool.
“He gave you life lesson classes.
“Kids would play basketball all night.”
“I grew up right next to it,” Gamble said. He had seven brothers and a sister.
“I came to high school in 1980. I got christened into the park about 1978. You had to be able to play with the older guys in order to be on the team. It made you practice if you wanted to play.”
No fighting was allowed, Gamble said. No guns. “You just wanted to play basketball.”
Each game only lasted 15 to 20 minutes, but you played all day.
“Our kids are losing that history. Kids need to know the history of the guys who made it easier for me. I would like to tell the history of as many of the guys as I can,” he said.
For the kids who came by the playground and played basketball, they were vehicles for learning about life. And that was by design of people like the legendary Coach Tommy Smith and others who worked with the kids.
“If you get knocked down, get up. Keep going.”
“No matter what you do, put your best foot forward.”
Speaking for himself and all the other kids who played there, Gamble said you learned how to play basketball, to socialize, and not get angry.
“Within that area, there were blacks who went to Winyah, and to Howard — so we played together there, but against each other on Friday night,” Gamble said.
“I have lifelong friends I will never lose that I made on The Playground.”
Over a period of 40-some years, Gamble estimates that thousands of people played and socialized there.
Baruch Park is still used as a neighborhood playground, and lots of family reunions and community and church gatherings take place in the small park along Black River Road.
For a period of time, he said, the park wasn’t being kept up, but it’s in better shape now.
That canteen, which has been torn down, was small, only about a thousand square feet. But that’s where the kids played ping pong and pool, enjoyed snacks from the canteen, and had kindergarten in the morning and played outside in the afternoon.
Gamble expects it will take about a year to gather the stories and pictures people submit, organize the information and get a book put together.
He will share proceeds with various charities in the community.
The title of the book will be:
“Legends of the Canteen, Growing up next to the Playground.”
If you’d like to send a story or pictures to Gamble, you may contact him by e-mail:
By Tommy Howard
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