With a theme of “Increase the Peace,” a new midnight basketball program will feature speakers promoting non-violence and other positive choices.
“We’re just using basketball as a conduit to make them understand there’s always alternatives when you go to make bad decisions,” said Steven Folks, director of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department.
The project is modeled after NOLA for Life’s program, aimed at reducing New Orleans’ murder rate.
“Thankfully, we haven’t had any murders in relation to young men killing each other since we've been in office,” said Councilman Seyram Selase, who pushed to bring the program to Anniston. But, he noted, there have been such instances in the past.
Folks said the city is seeking partners in the effort. He said he expects to find enough sponsors through local businesses and organizations to cover the program at no cost to the city. Members of community groups have already volunteered their time for the program, he said, and the Calhoun County Commission is providing prize money and other needs for the program.
Sebastian Floyd is a member of the Men of Legacy club, which tries to get men involved in the lives of local youth. The organization, he said, provides programs for young men on subjects such as combating bullying and coping with peer pressure. The group has been looking for ways to help stop violence in the community, he said.
A 16-year veteran high school basketball referee, Floyd has volunteered to put his stripes and whistle to use for the weekly tournaments.
“It will be a good, positive thing for the whole community,” he said.
Floyd noted that Friday and Saturday evenings tend to be “the biggest time for kids to be out and about and to get into other things if there’s nothing else to do.”
Folks said center directors will be willing to put in the extra hours as well.
“Our people don’t mind volunteering their time if it’s going to be for the betterment of the kids,” he said.
The program is open to the city’s young people aged 13-18. They can form seven-person teams to compete in a five-on-five tournament modeled on the NCAA championship, with four community centers mimicking the NCAA’s four regions. Up to 32 teams can take part in the single-elimination tournament with a $1,000 grand prize.
Selase said the program primarily targets young men but is also open to young women. Girls, he said, can join a boys’ team in this tournament, with the potential to expand in the future. Selase said if the program is successful, he hopes it can be expanded to twice a year or quarterly.
The program will tip off at South Highland Community Center on Sept. 5, where tournament brackets will be announced. Tournament games will take place at South Highland Community Center, Carver Center, Norwood Hodges Community Center, and the Senior Citizen Therapeutic and Rehabilitation Center. Tournament rounds will take place the following three Saturday nights and culminate in a championship game Oct. 5 at Miller Gym. Midnight basketball will open beginning at 6 p.m. with speakers, the games following at 7 p.m.
Selase said city officials are still scheduling speakers for the weekly games, with substance-abuse-prevention agencies and 2nd Chance, a local advocacy group for victims of domestic and sexual violence, already signed on to participate. He encouraged any local organization interested in participating or anyone interested in forming a team to call 256-236-8221.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.