St. Nicholas Park

Arlington "Ollie" Edinboro Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This playground honors the memory of Arlington “Ollie” Edinboro (1916-1990), a Harlem native who dedicated his career to improving the lives of generations of New York City’s adolescents by teaching them basketball.

Born nearby on 139th Street, Edinboro went to local elementary schools, and played basketball on local streets since he was a boy.  His love for the game led him to a job as a Junior Recreation Worker with the Department of Parks when he was only 15 years old.  He was one of the first African Americans on the Public School Athletics League (PSAL) team at Benjamin Franklin High School and went on to play and coach semi-pro basketball.  After working for the Department of Parks, Edinboro went to work as athletic coordinator for the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

In 1942, Edinboro entered the Army as a Quarter Master Group Leader.  During his three years of service, he learned discipline and the importance of a well-regimented training program.  His days in the Army had a permanent influence on the way he taught young people how to master the game of basketball, as well as their lives.  By 1949, Edinboro returned to the Parks Department as a Recreation Director.  He spent the rest of his career enriching the lives of children in Harlem’s parks and recreation centers.  Edinboro was a driving force behind the Holcum Rucker Tournament, Boys of Yesteryear Inc., and countless other programs.

By the 1970s, Edinboro had already reached legendary status.  Children rode the subway from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens to come learn basketball from him.  Although kids considered his strict style of teaching old-fashioned, they also knew no one could teach them basketball like “Mr. Ollie.”  What truly set Edinboro apart as a teacher was not that his students mastered the game, but that his students learned self-discipline and self-respect.  Edinboro chose to only teach ages nine to 15, so the life lessons he interwove with his basketball training would come early enough in the course of their lives to have a meaningful impact on the remainder of their teen development.  In an age when many children fell prey to drugs, Edinboro used basketball as an alluring means to help countless young become well-rounded adults.

In 2004 Council Member Robert Jackson introduced a Local Law naming this playground, for the man who did so much for the children of this community.  The site was formally dedicated Arlington “Ollie” Edinboro Playground on June 17, 2005.

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