The sounds of summer at the Mount Airy playground will start soon: The slap of basketballs bouncing, the shouts of kids at play, the cheers of spectators catching a game.
But anyone who wants to know the game score when 300 kids in a summer basketball league hit the courts starting June 13 may have to learn to read lips.
That's because the city's Department of Recreation has forbidden the Mount Airy Basketball Association from using its public-address system this year, even though the league has used it for 12 years.
League officials blast music and shout commentary throughout games, irritating residents who last year gave the city petitions seeking relief from the noise, Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson said.
"The complaints were that the music is so loud that you can hear it three or four blocks away," said Slawson, who said she remains open to a last-minute compromise.
Dr. Samuel Blackman, a pediatrician who lives across from the playground, said: "Imagine having an NBA game going on in your house. Windows open, windows closed, it doesn't matter - it's deafening."
Slawson, who became recreation commissioner last summer, met with residents in July to address noise complaints dating from 2001.
"We made concessions, trying to accommodate both sides," Slawson said. "We asked the league to turn the music down, but the very next week, they turned it up again."
League officials denied that, saying they have lowered the volume, quit playing music and didn't broadcast Saturday games until after noon. The league plays Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and Saturdays, generally from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., for two months every summer.
They said silencing the PA system will strip the joy - and safety - from summer basketball.
"You can't run a program without a PA system. It's like saying to the referees: 'You have to use sign language because you can't have whistles,' " said David Fisher, a league board member whose two grown sons played for years in the league, which is open to boys and girls ages 7 to 15.
The PA system also gives kids glory that may prove elusive elsewhere in their lives, Fisher said.
"Kids love to have their names announced during the game. They they like to imagine they might be [NBA star] LeBron James," Fisher said.
Yesterday, Slawson said she would consider allowing game commentary on the sound system if officials nixed the music. He and Blackman emphasized that they wanted the league to continue playing.
"It's critical to the lives of those young boys and girls that [the league] continue to do what they do," Slawson said. "But it's important that they be respectful and considerate of the neighbors while they do it."
"It's not like there are 1,000 people watching the game," said Blackman. "There are maybe 50 or 75. You do not need an amplified sound system to address people from 25 yards away." *