BEVERLY HILLS — As an avid tennis player, 17-year-old Travis Lange knows the importance of practice. So when it came time for him to choose an Eagle Scout project last summer, he knew exactly how he wanted to contribute.
“We have a tennis backboard in our driveway that my dad built, and some of my friends who work at Clark Park in Detroit mentioned that the kids there could really use one to practice with,” Lange, an International Academy student, said.
Clark Park, located on Clark Street in the Mexicantown section of southwest Detroit, has long been considered the jewel of the neighborhood. The park offers year-round activities, such as arts and crafts, baseball, ice hockey, ice skating, mentoring, soccer, and youth employment and training.
Lange said it took him and his fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 1024 of Beverly Hills about six weeks to complete the project from start to finish — from collecting cans to raise $400 for the building materials to building the parts on the weekends and finally assembling the backboard at the park in mid-July.
Troop leader Jeff Hausman said the Clark Park neighbors were incredibly pleased with the new installation — even stopping by to ask to use it during the setup.
“Even when we were in the process of putting it together, there was an appreciation that it was there from the residents that it would bring more opportunities,” he said.
“It was a perfect opportunity for Travis as a varsity tennis player. It tied the whole thing together — giving back to the community with something you are passionate about, with the idea of helping other people develop their passions, as well.”
Clark Park manager Ziggy Gonzalez, 83, was born three blocks from the park and has been an avid user since 1947. Gonzalez helped create the Clark Park Coalition in 1991 after the facility was shut down due to the city’s financial woes, and he continues to teach ice skating and hockey to youth.
“The backboard made a big hit from the moment they put it up. We had warm weather into the autumn, and the kids really took advantage of it,” Gonzalez said.
“We haven’t had a backboard for a long time, so this is a welcome addition. A lot of kids at our park are into baseball and soccer, so sometimes a tennis kid can’t find anyone to play with. The backboard helps you enrich your skill.”
Gonzalez called Lange a “special kid,” adding, “I hope he gets all the accolades he deserves.
“Along with the tennis backboard, Travis also put up a volleyball net. He’s a rarity of a young person, one who wants to help out other young people, keep them out of gangs and give them another option,” Gonzalez said.
“This neighborhood has a lot of graffiti and burned-out houses, but we’re trying to bring it back to a semblance of what it was when I grew up. I’ve only gone about three blocks in 83 years, but my heart is in the park, and I know we’ve helped a lot of kids.”