10/14/07 — Basketball program helping keep youth off the streets

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Basketball program helping keep youth off the streets

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on October 14, 2007 2:08 AM

Every Tuesday night, more than 150 young people who might otherwise have no place to hang out are shooting hoops at Goldsboro High School instead.

Smart Choices for Youth, a non-profit group serving Goldsboro since 1989, is paying for "Midnight Basketball" at the school with a new grant, Executive Director Daryl Woodard said.

"We were awarded a grant last year to combat youth violence and gangs in Wayne and Wilson counties," Woodard said.

The first six months after receiving the Communities Empowering Youth grant -- worth $750,000 total -- the 12-15 employee non-profit group planned how it would use the funds, the executive director said.

The grant is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquence Prevention, Woodard said.

It became obvious to the group that basketball might be a popular choice.

"Overwhelmingly, my staff said that midnight basketball would be a great idea," Woodard said.

Their idea proved correct, as attendance has steadily increased since they started the program a more than two months ago, the executive director said.

And the program isn't limited to Goldsboro teens -- some are traveling quite a distance for the chance to play basketball at night.

"One young man rode his scooter every Tuesday from Dudley," Woodard said.

Although the program is called Midnight Basketball, the term is something of a misnomer -- the program starts at 6:30 p.m. and goes until about 10, Woodard said.

"During the school year, we can't keep the kids out to (midnight). They have to take tests," he said.

But during the summer months, Smart Choices for Youth hopes to keep the program going, and is looking for another venue, Woodard said.

"Maybe one of the middle schools," he said. "So if anybody has a gym or someplace where we can get involved, we'd love to hear from them."

Participation in the program does not require low-income status. The only requirement to play is to be a "kid with nothing else to do."

Woodard said the basketball sessions have been peaceful, with no fights or other reports of violence.

"These are 150-plus kids that otherwise would be out on the streets," he said.