Holiday Hoops keeps at-risk kids off streets

December 31, 2009 4:41:02 AM PST
The students at the University of Illinois at Chicago are on winter break, but there is plenty of activity in their gymnasium as a group of youngsters compete in Holiday Hoops. It's an effort to keep at-risk students off the street and in the game.

"If you have a goal and you have a dream, I need you to stick with it," said Judge Carl Walker.

It starts with motivational speeches. Judge Walker presides over gun cases in Cook County Juvenile Court.

"We believe that this is good because we believe this is the true solution to getting kids out of gangs, getting kids away from drugs and away from guns and violence," Judge Walker said.

Then let the games begin. The free basketball clinic is open to students starting at 10 years old who are on probation or have active cases in juvenile court.

"Stuff like this, I really like to do it 'cause like my community, we really don't have places where we can just go so we can just play ball, hang out, meet different people and just mingle," said Jaquan, 18 years old.

Many of the girls are learning dance and cheerleading routines.

"It's been kind of great participating in it and I enjoyed my time being here," said one female participant.

The primary goal of the three-day event is to keep the children busy during the long winter break.

"Unfortunately, the children that are involved with the court are 85 percent African-American children, some 13 percent Latino children. So when we have opportunities to keep these kids engaged and off of the street this directly impacts disproportionate minority contact in that we have kids here, they're supervised. They're engaged in a structured activity. They're not on the street where they might be more likely to be involved in some criminal activity," said Miquel Lewis, Psy.D., Cook County Juvenile Court.

The event also aims to teach and reward positive behavior. It was organized by juvenile probation officers. They are providing trophies, t-shirts and other items -- enough for each child to go home a winner.

"I just thought it was a good idea for kids to exert some energy, get out of the house and do something positive," said Marcus Spencer, organizer and juvenile probation officer. "Just to see the look on their faces when they get this prize, it's like, 'Man somebody actually gave me something just because I did something right.'"

The holiday Dunk and Dance Competition, as they call it, attracted about 150 young people.

The organizers hope to be able to raise the funds to make this an annual event.


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