Basketball group aims to keep kids off the streets

June 11, 2011 5:15:45 PM PDT
Recent crimes involving groups of teens have drawn attention to the problem of violence among Chicago's youth during the summer.

Some say the problem centers around teens with nothing better to do while school is out during the summer months. Filling that gap is the focus of many programs in Chicago, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson's PUSH Rainbow Excel Basketball League, or REBL.

On Saturday, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy played referee as he tipped off a REBL basketball game but not before he again pledged to put more cops on the street. "So now we're getting them to the right spots. Now we have to make sure they're doing the right things, and the right things are quality of life enforcement," McCarthy said.

For some teens like Gary Covington, participating in REBL is a way to stay alive.

"Before, I was doing this, I was out on the street hanging out with people who be out on the street," said the 17-year-old Austin resident and summer basketball league participant.

"When the students leave the court and go back to school, they have something instilled in them that will assist them not just on the basketball court, but in the classroom as well," said REBL Director Brian McCoy.

For the last four years, REBL has taught conflict resolution, anger management and critical thinking to the roughly 200 boys, along with a few girls, ages 13 to 19 who participate in the 10-week athletic league.

"Me living where I'm at, people there sell drugs, do nothing but bad things. So I decided to do sports. Be positive," said Maurice Earskines, a summer basketball league participant.

Organizers say the league also supports African-American males academically through mentors, like former Chicago Bulls star Bob Love. "It's very important for these young men to have their priorities in order: Education first and sports second," Love said.

Although the program makes an impact, PUSH founder Jackson says more must be done. "The violence must stop but let's get on the front side of this issue. We need police, coaches, teachers, jobs and transportation," Jackson said.

REBL began in April and will end next week, which is when the league's neighborhood program would kick in, but right now there is not enough money to fund it. Organizers are hoping for donations and community support to get activities going to give these kids something to do in a safe, structured environment.

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