Pick an evening and walk by the North Swan Street basketball courts and chances are you’ll hear the sporadic chirp of Darryl Walton’s whistle.
Well-known around his Arbor Hill neighborhood as “Coach Gramps,” Darryl works two jobs in addition to coaching for the Capital City Scrappers, a local AAU basketball program. On top of it all, five nights a week he runs drills at North Swan Street Park, holding practice for anyone who shows up.
“I’ll practice with anybody, doesn’t matter what team you’re on,” says Darryl. “I help kids get better, period. I want to see kids go to the next level.”
On any given night the kids that show up may range in age from high school to kindergarten. Darryl cycles them through shooting and ball handling drills on the park’s half court. His son, Dayshaun Walton, is a constant participant.
Dayshaun will be a junior at Green Tech High Charter School in the fall and plays on the varsity basketball team there. He is also on the Capital City Scrappers 16U team. A promising and driven athlete, he aims to continue playing basketball in college and beyond.
“I started when I was four years old and I’ve just been playing ball ever since,” Dayshaun says.
“I don’t see me stopping at all.”
NO RIM, NO PROBLEM
As COVID-19 increasingly restricted many aspects of daily life, Dayshaun found himself finishing his sophomore year of high school online. After-school sports programs were suspended. Public parks — North Swan Street Park included — were closed and the rims were removed from basketball courts by city workers.
The shift to online learning required some critical adjustments, but Dayshaun took the challenges in stride. His athletic routine was no different.
“I’ve always been a hard worker,” he says. “Once I got back out there, I’m just good because I work on my body. I work on my basics and the fundamentals and stuff. And nothing changed, there’s just no rim.”
Adaptable as he is, Dayshaun couldn’t hide the fact that the re-installation of basketball rims across Albany in early July was a welcome return.
“It’s good. It feels good to have it back.”
CARING FOR THE KIDS
There is no getting around the fact that there are clear differences in the services and resources provided to different Albany neighborhoods. While North Swan Street Park underwent a city-led renovation in 2015, Darryl is well aware that labors of love such as his basketball practices offer something too often absent in Arbor Hill.
“We need some things for kids to do after school,” he says. “We need more people to be there for these kids. There’s nothing to do, so the kids are going to the streets. The drug dealers – they offer more than we offer. The streets offer more than the people. And its bad, it’s really bad. You see why the kids go sour, because nobody cares. The city ain’t got too much as far as dealing with kids, especially in the hood.”
“They don’t care. They really don’t.”
Between father and son there is a shared feeling for what Darryl calls “togetherness” — the idea that no matter where you live, being invested in your community tangibly improves it. There is a resonant similarity in the way each views the dynamics between parent and child and between individual and environment — the desire for something symbiotic.
“If we’re more together and we know each other’s background and we know each other’s stories and we know how to be there for each other… it makes everybody feel good,” says Dayshaun. “It feels good to give back.”
Darryl says he feels his role in the community is as a father figure — someone to provide instruction, guidance and encouragement as needed.
“I want kids to reach their goals. The important things are going to school, get that education, stick with what you love and stay off the streets. I want to help kids the way I help my own son, you know? A path to glory.”