One Man’s Dream to Play in Color

As we enter the summer season, we are reminded of childhood memories – the first day the community pool opened, ice cream on a hot summer night, or playing basketball until dusk on a local court until the mosquitos took us away. For Shelton Hawkins, of Easton, playing basketball on a community court in Easton helped to shape his life and career – eventually taking him on a journey around the world to coach basketball and back to Easton to fulfill a lifelong dream.

This month, his dream will be realized when the community basketball courts he played on as a youth will be refurbished at Idlewild and Moton parks. Shelton’s project, “Play in Color,” is not about a typical basketball court. It is an international trend to use public basketball courts as a canvas for art to strengthen communities. Easton will be the first community in Maryland to have two “Destination Art” basketball courts in one town.

Shelton Hawkins, whose dream of using public basketball courts as a canvas for art to strengthen communities, is being realized this month at Idlewild and Moton parks in Easton.
Shelton’s story begins in 2003 when his 23-year old cousin, James Thomas, a promising basketball player, was playing basketball at Idlewild Park and fell and hit his head on the court and died. The event left an indelible mark on his life, creating a desire to one day refurbish the court in Easton in honor of his cousin.

He recalls, “The court was not very well kept at the time. After James died, we stopped playing basketball there as it didn’t feel safe anymore.”

Shelton continued to play basketball for his school teams – first at Easton High School and then for Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Virginia. He then played college basketball at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas. Following college, he coached basketball for elementary school children in the Third Ward in Houston, a poor and underprivileged area. When the opportunity arose to coach youth basketball through Nike’s international program in Barcelona, Spain, Shelton jumped at the chance to travel and see the world. Through his coaching experiences, he was exposed to “Destination Art” basketball courts, as he explored other cities in Europe in his off-hours.

He comments, “I have always loved basketball and art. Seeing these artistically-designed courts in the middle of cities around the world really inspired me and tied back to my desire to come home and make a difference in my community.”

Shelton’s dream was twofold: to pay tribute to his cousin James by inspiring other players to dream outside the box about where their own lives could go, while also encouraging kids to get outside and play.

He adds, “My mom, Patricia Hawkins, who served in the Army before working in education, always told me I could do anything I wanted.”

Shelton started exploring creating a “Destination Art” basketball court on the Eastern Shore, researching similar courts that had been done in London, New York, Paris, Brazil, and Puerto Rico. While traveling in Puerto Rico, he saw artwork that became the inspiration for a court design.

He states, “I drew the design first, then filled in the color. I wanted a multipurpose geometric design that physical education, math, and science teachers could use in teaching students, as well as a colorful, inviting court that people could play on and be inspired by.”

First, he approached the Town of Denton, where he was living at the time, about doing the project on an abandoned court there. He had no luck getting that court started, so he approached Easton about refurbishing the Idlewild court. Years passed and finally, Shelton found a receptive audience in Easton Town Councilmember Megan Cook, who sought and got concept approval from the Easton Parks and Recreation Board and the Easton Town Council.

Megan comments, “The project is just fabulous. I am always in awe of people with artistic ability. That Shelton could see the basketball court as a canvas and as something beautiful for the community, is something that everyone can get behind and support.”

The Town of Easton expanded the project by adding the town’s other outdoor basketball court in Moton Park. At Megan’s request, art teacher Garnette Hines, of Easton High School (EHS), organized a contest among members of the EHS Art Honor Society to design the art for the Moton court. The winning design was done by then-senior Catherine Blizzard who is now attending the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia.

In anticipation of the project, earlier this year the Town of Easton completed the required pre-surfacing of the basketball courts, improving the court surfaces and making the courts college length. On June 9, Daniel Peterson of Project Backboard of Los Angeles, a not-for-profit organization with a superb record of success in such art applications nationwide, will begin painting the Idlewild court. Shelton will help lead the community painting of the Moton court soon after the Idlewild court is completed.

The project received a $5,000 Public Arts Across Maryland Grant submitted by the Talbot County Arts Council and approved by the Maryland State Arts Council. Matching funds were raised by Megan and Shelton through the Play in Color Fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation. The two sold basketballs, T-shirts, and hats to help raise funds and to tell the story of the Play in Color project.

Shelton reflects, “The Idlewild Court meant so much to us growing up and outdoor basketball is such an equalizer. This project has been unifying to the community and will hopefully spawn other creative community art projects in Talbot County.”

He adds, “When I visited other ‘Destination Art’ courts, I found that these courts encourage people to take photos and to get out on the court and play. It’s about the brotherhood of basketball – creating a space for people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds to play basketball.”

Since returning to the Eastern Shore, Shelton has coached basketball at Saints Peter and Paul High School and then was the Assistant Basketball Coach at University of Maryland – Eastern Shore. This year, he returned to his love of art and is teaching art at St. Charles High School in Charles County, although he still lives in his hometown, Easton.

Three months ago, Shelton met with the Mayor of Salisbury about creating three similar basketball courts there over the next year. His enthusiasm for this project is taking his dream farther than he ever imagined.

Upcoming events around the opening of the Idlewild court include free basketball clinics for all ages on Saturday, June 22, from 8 a.m. to noon and a Celebrity Basketball Game on Sunday, June 23. To donate to the Play in Color Fund, contact the Mid-Shore Community Foundation at 410-820-8175. For further information about participating in the painting of the Moton court or any of the events surrounding the “Destination Art” courts, contact Shelton Hawkins at 410-924-2994.

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Allison Rogers


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