Neighborhood folks shoot hoops at Highlandtown church

Written by on February 3, 2010 in Neighborhood News - No comments

March Madness hasn’t even begun, but already, Kevin Bernhard and Joe Di Mattina are talking trash. Only instead of Michigan State vs. North Carolina (or even the Hoosiers vs. the Terps), they’re throwing down about Highlandtown and Patterson Park.

“Of course we can whip them,” Bernhard snorts. “We’re Highlandtown.”

“No,” says DiMattina. “We have Sam Cassell. He’s an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards. Well, we don’t have him playing for us, but he came from our neighborhood. He was born in Baltimore and he has ties to Patterson Park. And his uncle owns a bar in our neighborhood, The New Cassell’s. You can’t have him, Highlandtown. Take that.”

And so it goes. Highlandtown Community Association (led by newly-elected president Kevin Bernhard) and Patterson Park Neighborhood Association (headed up by longtime neighborhood activist Joe Di Mattina) are ramping up the excitement for their upcoming neighborhood basketball face off. It will be on Saturday, Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. in the gymnasium of Breath of God Lutheran Church.
The two teams are practicing in the church’s gym on selected Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. (Contact information for both team captains is found at the end of this article, for those who want to join in the fun).
And fun is the operative word here.
“We might play four on four,” says Bernhard. “Or maybe five on five.” He thinks for a minute. “That way, we wouldn’t have to run as much.”
Don’t look for showers of confetti and the winner cutting down the net at the end of the game either.
“I think the winner gets to pick the bar everyone celebrates in afterward,” says Rev. Mark Parker, pastor of Breath of God, and in his words, “host and somewhat instigator” of the event, although it didn’t take much convincing.”
It’s not the first time the two neighborhoods have met, either.
“We had a softball game last year,” says Di Mattina. “(City Councilman) Jim Kraft was our umpire. We made up T-shirts and everything.”
Rumor has it that the two neighborhoods played a best-of-three series, and tied with one game each. The third game that served as the tiebreaker?
“It was a friendly competition,” says Pastor Mark.
The kind of competition involving alcohol.
Who won?
“PPNA took home the gold that day,” says Bernhard. “We’ll see how basketball pans out.”
They’re already thinking of the next time they’ll meet. Kickball, maybe. Or more likely bowling, since it can go on rain or shine.
The purpose of the games, say both men, is to get residents involved in something positive and fun. Community meetings, they say, are great, but inevitably lead to complaints about what’s wrong within the neighborhood.
Ball games tend to move the focus to more enjoyable things.
Like whose neighborhood has better fan support, for example. Spectators are welcome; the guys say that if you’re not going to play, you are expected to cheer, heckle and otherwise partake of the whole game experience.
And speaking of cheering.
“I heard that some of the women in our neighborhood were going to come and be cheerleaders for the game,” says Di Mattina.
“They did that at the softball game. They were 1970s cheerleaders,” adds Bernhard helpfully.
Pastor Mark, for his part, says there’s no pressure to be a great athlete (or even a good athlete) in this particular program.
“I can tell you there will be no NBA scouts at this game,” he says solemnly.
Note: Want to be a part of the great Southeast basketball experience? The game is held on Saturday, Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. at Breath of God Lutheran Church, on the corner of Pratt and Clinton streets. Want to play? Contact Joe Di Mattina of PPNA at, or Kevin Bernhard of HiCA at

—by Mary Helen Sprecher

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.