08/12/07 — Basketball program offers alternative to gangs

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Basketball program offers alternative to gangs

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 12, 2007 2:00 AM

Basketball will be used as an outreach to young people in the community, says the organizer of a program starting later this month.

"Midnight Basketball" will officially be launched as an alternative to gangs and other wayward activities, said Daryl Woodard, executive director of Smart Choices for Youth, which serves Wayne and Wilson counties.

Earlier in the summer, Woodard announced the project, made possible through a $750,000, three-year grant from the state. A similar program has already been started in Wilson County, eliciting participation of more than 100 youths.

An organizational meeting for youths ages 12-18 and their parents will be held on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Goldsboro High School auditorium.

"We'll let them know the rules and regulations and a schedule will be set up" based on the number of participants, Woodard said. "We'll have a 12-14 league and a 15-18 league. Anybody in Wayne County that would like to register can do that."

Aug. 20 will be the first game day, with scrimmages to be the precursor to assignment of teams. Games will be played from 4 to 8 p.m. in the GHS auditorium.

The school is a central location, Woodard said. And with six goals on the court, they can run two games at all times.

The games will be held every Tuesday from Aug. 20 through Oct. 16.

But more than lay-ups and dunking baskets, the program will be an opportunity to work closely with the county's youth.

"This is something that we really strongly believe will be an alternative for kids getting involved with gangs," Woodard said. "We want them to be able to choose to be a part of something positive, being around other individuals that are positive."

It will also give adults a chance to talk with the students and urge them to stay in school, he added.

"We'll be checking on their behavior in school, any other things that we can do to encourage them academically. There'll be coaches, parents and others who can encourage them."

Volunteers to assist with the program are needed, said Alton Mitchell, coordinator of activities for Smart Choices. Referees and scorekeepers are among the rolls that need filling, as well as chaperones and those donating refreshments for each event.

"This is where the community can kick in," Woodard said. Even though the program is free to participants, every bit of support helps ensure its success, he noted.

"We rely on volunteers, even if just some positive parental influence," Mitchell added.

They also want to spruce up the players' appearance.

"If we could get someone to help us provide (team) jerseys, outside of officials and scorekeepers, that would be the biggest necessity we have," Mitchell said.

Woodard suggested anyone interested in assisting with the program call his office at 735-0008 before Aug. 20 to see what slots are available and be matched up with an assignment.

They're expecting a good turnout beginning with this week's organizational meeting, the men said.

"We have the facility now to actually hold the program. We can have as many as eight teams," Mitchell said. "As many kids that want to come out, we can facilitate that and keep them off the streets."

But the effort will not stop when Midnight Basketball ends in the fall. Plans are in the offing for a large-scale event involving nationally known players coming to the area for exhibition games and visits to several schools.

"We'll have the 'And1' mix tape tour, several of their top athletes coming in to do a big basketball game and hold school assemblies about making positive choices," Mitchell said. "We'll also talk about character education, deter them from going into gangs and building positive teens within Wayne County."