Rich Szumlanski’s grandsons played basketball in the court of his Amyclae neighborhood in Bel Air all the time. So did other neighborhood children — until the county took his hoop away.
“The whole street, including parents, play with the hoop,” Szumlanski said. “Now my grandsons don’t have their hoop, nor do any of the other children.”
He’s aggravated over the whole process — a letter from the county telling him he needed to remove his portable hoop from the right of way then the county coming to remove it on Jan, 25 — and the resources the county used.
“I understand there are problems with funding for the schools, there are holes in the road,” Szumlanski said, “and they’re going to take away basketball hoops.”
He isn’t the only one to have a hoop removed. A social media post late last week was commented on almost 60 times and shared nearly 170 times. Most people were irate the county would take away an opportunity for children to play outside instead of getting into other, nefarious activities. According to the post, dozens of hoops have been removed in recent weeks.
The basketball hoop regulation, which says a hoop must be 10 feet behind the curb, is a matter of safety, said Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for Harford County government.
“We want children to play outdoors. We realize this might be an inconvenience for some, but we cannot look into the eyes of parent whose child was hurt, or worse, and say we knew about the violation, but we didn’t do anything to stop it,” Mumby said.
When the county removes a basketball hoop, it is most often in response to a citizen complaint, usually a neighbor, concerned about safety, she said.
“They’re afraid they won’t see a child chasing a ball in the street and will hit them by accident,” Mumby said.
In the case of Szumlanski, he said a snow plow driver complained about the hoop in the right of way.
Mumby said difficulties arise “if anything is in the county right of way when we have to send plows or other emergency vehicles.”
She said there’s a simple fix to the problem: roll the hoop back out of the county right of way.
“We do not drive around looking for violations,” Mumby said. “But when we have a complaint, we can’t look the other way.”
When a complaint is lodged, staff will go to the home and verify the hoop is in the right-of-way. If it is, the homeowner gets a letter from the county asking that it be rolled back, or else it will be removed by the county in two weeks. The hoop owner then has four weeks to retrieve it from the county’s storage facility, otherwise it will be disposed of, Mumby said.
If the county sees other hoops in the right of way, it will send letters to those homeowners as well.
“We can’t pick and choose which homes will have to follow the rules,” Mumby said.
Such letters for violations have been mailed for at least 20 years, Mumby said.
So far this year, 52 letters have been sent, and seven hoops removed, according to Mumby. In 2018, 51 letters were sent and five hoops were removed and in 2017, 82 letters were sent and 19 hoops were removed.
A few days after his was removed, Szumlanski said he drove through his neighborhood and saw six other hoops — one in the street, two in the same location as his (between the street and sidewalk) and three in the same location but tipped over.
Szumlanski received a registered letter telling him he had to remove his hoop by Jan. 25 because it was in the 10-foot county easement “and they could not condone the hoop being there because it encouraged children to play in the street,” he said.
That, in turn, meant cars would have to swerve to avoid hitting children or other cars, the letter said. Five to six people were copied on the letter, he said.
“Looking at this letter, this is what we’re doing for the little man, protecting us idiots because we don’t know what we’re doing,” Szumlanski said. “It takes 11 government employees to take the hoop. This is so important to Harford County.”
He said he planned to remove his hoop, but the morning of Jan. 25, “just by coincidence” after his wife called the county to complain the county showed up and took the hoop.
“I didn’t move it, because I didn’t think someone would be there first thing in the morning the day they could take it,” Szumlanski said. “The bottom line is, I cannot believe Harford County can devote this much energy, resources, taking away basketball hoops from families, children, when they’ve been around fro 50 to 60 years. It’s unbelievable.”
He intends to get his hoop back, but the weather Monday and Tuesday have been an issue and he needs to borrow a pickup truck.
Since Szumlanski’s grandsons don’t have their hoop to play with, they’ve been carrying a portable soccer goal into the court and playing with that.
When he gets it back, he said he’ll likely put it on the side of his sloped driveway.
“I guess that’s all I can do,” he said.
Szumlanski conceded the county has a perfectly legal reason to take his hoop.
“But somewhere along the line, common sense and doing the right thing have to prevail,” he said. “It sounds petty, but come on, we’re law-abiding citizens.”
As for Szumlanski’s complaint about wasting county resources, Mumby offers a different perspective.
“Number one, we’re doing it for the safety of neighborhood children. We are doing the work of county government every single day,” Mumby said. “So we would ask a homeowner who is in violation of the rules, given their fair warning, we would ask they do what all of their neighbors have to do, which is follow the rules and not require us to dedicate resources to following the rules, which wouldn’t be necessary if they were followed in the first place.”