"Devastated" is part of the self-description that Bluff City Classic organizer Stanley Blue used to convey the way he feels about the decision to cancel play in the high-profile Memphis summer basketball league.
Safety concerns have sidelined the long-running league that was only two weeks into this summer's scheduled competition.
On July 5, more than 1,000 fans and players left The LeMoyne-Owen College gym in the 800-block of Walker and encountered a crime scene. Across the street, a man had been shot in the head. Police arrived about 8:30 p.m. The 29-year-old victim was later pronounced dead at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.
Sources say the victim, Fredrick Poplar, was walking when someone pulled up in a white SUV and shot him. Although the shooting was an isolated incident unrelated to the Bluff City Classic or the college, there were enough safety concerns to suspend this year's league.
"I'm crushed," said Blue. "But we want to ensure the safety of all fans and participants. We look forward to future leagues."
It's a traumatic loss for the community anytime a young person loses his/her life, said Blue. "This young man was a father of three, a son and was engaged to be married, so it's very unfortunate."
Former NBA All-Star and University of Memphis standout Penny Hardaway has long been associated with the classic. "We are looking out for the safety of our players, fans, refs and volunteers' well being," said Hardaway. (It (canceling the season) had to be done."
Started in 1981, the league resurfaced last summer after a seven-year layoff. The area's best prep, collegiate and professional talent have used the league to showcase and hone their skills before thousands of fans. The LOC gym was a new venue for the league, which had operated out of the gym on the Union campus of Southwest Tennessee Community College.
For 24 years, Blue has been associated with the league, trying to help develop and impact young people in a positive way.
"Since we brought it back, we've been committed to this league," said Blue. "We felt very safe in the (LOC) gym. We had a huge police presence but we can't control the environment."
Blue said the summer league was born out of a desire to see young people realize, recognize and cultivate their talents on the basketball courts. In addition to the development of talent, there are teachable moments that afford nurturing of decision-making and analytical thinking, said Blue.
"We'll regroup, we'll reorganize and we'll be back."