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Thursday, June 20, 2024

An hour after Sunday services let out at the Ignite Life Center, a half a dozen shoes squeaked across the newly poured pavement of a basketball court.

Members of the congregation of the church, located at 404 NW 14th Ave., aimed their shots at two NBA-sized hoops as Johan Nunez looked on and shouted encouragement.

“Let’s go,” he yelled. “Hustle.”

The kids used to play basketball on a concrete slab across the street from the building, which doubles as a temporary emergency shelter. They used to aim at a hoop attached to a telephone pole.

But on Saturday, the new court took the old one’s place.

Gainesville Police Officer Bobby White, who organized the construction of the court, said he hopes the new addition to the center can function as a gathering area for police and residents of the shelter, which operates through the Florida Department of Children and Families. Through his Basketball Cop Foundation, White has organized the construction of two other courts in the past year.

Nunez, who has been a member of the center for three years, said it brought him hope to see the kids get a new court.

“Basketball brings us together,” the 25-year-old said.

Although the new court behind the church will not open officially until Sunday at 12:30 p.m., some started using it Saturday night after the pavement was poured, the hoops were put up and some of the lines were drawn, said Nicole Gomez, an associate pastor at the center and the program director for the shelter, which also conducts a mentorship program.

White started his foundation in January after dashboard-camera footage of him playing basketball with kids after a noise complaint went viral. Now that he has almost finished his third court — he has some painting and landscaping left undone — White said he hopes to build courts outside of Gainesville.

“The goal is to one day, if funds permit, to start sponsoring these projects around the country,” he said.

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