CHICAGO (WLS) -- Hundreds of youths converged on Grant Park Thursday for the Hoops in the Hood tournament hosted by the Chicago Park District and LISC Chicago.
The tournament is designed to keep kids busy and productive during the summer. More than 400 children participated.
The violence prevention program reclaims public spaces across the city, allowing thousands of children to play in areas often threatened by gang members. Thursday's downtown tournament was the summer finale.
Basketball coach Josh Crenshaw said the young players on his team are the "reason I get up in the morning."
"They make me a better man," said Crenshaw, who is pushing the kids beyond basketball. "Academics is a must. All my kids sign contracts at the beginning of the year. I take no more than two Cs. If you have two Cs, it's mandatory study hall."
The children clearly felt safe at the Grant Park tournament, and appreciated the opportunity.
"We got to show everybody that we're all not negative people. We can all come together and have fun without there being problems, so this is a great event to have," said Tre Hamilton, a 17-year-old player from West Garfield Park. "We're bringing people from all around Chicago - not just the West Side. We got some people from the South Side, the North Side, all around, so it's a great event because we're bringing everyone together."
The event is fun for the players, but it also provides opportunities to learn lessons, including teamwork and bonding.
"Now we have all the community coming together which makes us feel safe and have fun," said DaJuan Gordon, 17.
Self-improvement is another lesson, proving basketball isn't just about the physical game. It's also mental.
"Basketball, it will legit clear your mind. When you play, you just get better and better, and it clears your mind," said Jordan Goss, 16.
Young athletes, ages 8-19, move forward with the help of adults coordinating the basketball effort.
"For the kids to live up to their full potential, we adults have to live up to our full responsibility," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
And that means potential beyond the basketball court; essentially, life lessons.
"Knowing there are people out here that are trying to make it better," said Tre Hamilton, "makes us feel better too."
Hundreds of Chicago youths head downtown for Hoops in the Hood tournament