One afternoon in February, Troy Fields and about 10 other guys from Seventh Street took seats in the gymnasium of the Police Athletic League center on Snyder Avenue - for them and so many who grew up around here, a safe haven from the violence and the shootings that mar this South Philadelphia neighborhood.

Lauren Baraldi, chief of the District Attorney's Office Gun Violence Task Force, and others from the antigang initiative Focused Deterrence were waiting for them.

They had an offer, Baraldi said. A basketball tournament. The District Attorney's Office would pay. The jerseys. The trophies. The refreshments. Everything, under two conditions:

The guys would have to organize it.

And they would have to sign a commitment letter: If they or anyone on their team got arrested, if anyone picked up a gun, then their entire team would be disqualified.

Troy wasn't worried about that.

He's never been in trouble. He stays off the corners. Out of the "war." That's what he calls the shooting between crews from Seventh Street and Fifth Street. A war. He is 19 and the war is much older. And no one he knows can tell him how it started. He has uncles in their 50s who can't answer that. It just is.

A lot of guys on the bleachers that day were in the war. It's a war that has taken a toll. Since only 2011, police say, seven people have been killed in the feud and 14 others wounded.

Troy was skeptical. Nothing comes free around Seventh Street, especially from the District Attorney's Office.

But these were well-connected people, he thought. And the Focused Deterrence program had already landed him a job at a Goodwill warehouse on Spring Garden Street. It's a job for now, but he wants something where he can use his brain. He's thinking about photography. If these people were willing to help him, he was willing to take it.

Plus, there hadn't been a basketball tournament in ages.

For the District Attorney's Office, the idea gets at the heart of the Focused Deterrence effort.

The program, which has been operating in South Philadelphia for almost two years, is twofold: There is the enforcement side - and the help side. As with the basketball contract, if one person squeezes a trigger, then police and prosecutors come down on his entire crew.

But as hard as they come down, they also work to connect these kids with jobs and the social services they need. Exits, if they are ready to take them.

They do not want to send them to prison, they tell them. They value them. They want them to live.

The basketball tournament, as simple a gesture as it was, was a way to build trust. A way to humanize each other.

The stakes were high. The Focused Deterrence group had tried to do something similar with the 27th Street guys in Grays Ferry earlier this year, but that fell apart after a spate of violence - a fight, a shooting, and a double murder.

The Seventh Street guys met each week at the PAL with Baraldi and Focused Deterrence outreach coordinators Tyrique Glasgow and Rueben Jones.

"Nothing deep," Baraldi would say. "Just basketball."

Troy quickly emerged as a leader. The guys called it the South Philadelphia March Madness Basketball Classic. Uniforms were important. They wanted Under Armour, like the ones Notre Dame wears. They decided on something cheaper but just as nice. Every team should get trophies, they agreed. And the MVPs should get gift cards, $20 for Chick-fil-A.

They found a DJ and designed fliers, figured out food and drink costs, hired refs. They named two of the four teams - Team Rabb and Team Lavish - after friends who had been shot to death. The other two were Bucketz and Wolfpack. Troy presented the budget to First District Attorney Ed McCann, a little under two grand.

Then, days before the championship, Karon Fitzpatrick of Team Lavish missed a probationary court hearing.

Karon, 21, is someone Focused Deterrence is trying to reach. He is in the thick of the war - someone Focused Deterrence has determined is most likely to shoot or be shot. He is someone they are worried won't make it. He has already been shot once. He has been doing better. He didn't have an excuse for missing the hearing. He just overslept. A favor was extended. The hearing was rescheduled. The tournament was back on.

It was held over two weekends last month. It was a success. The bleachers were crowded. People came out from the neighborhood to see what the guys from Seventh Street had achieved.

Troy's Wolfpack beat Team Rabb, 84-80 in OT, for the championship.

On Thursday, Troy and Karon sat in the bleachers recalling the fun of it. They were proud to see everyone just laughing and having a good time.

It was as if the neighborhood took a deep breath for a minute, they said. It was just basketball.

215-854-2759 @MikeNewall