The Wilson County Civic League hosted its annual summer basketball camp for local youths this past month and wound it down Thursday with the final day of camp before school resumes next week.
To celebrate the culmination of camp, the participants were rewarded with a pizza party and a visit from Lebanon Police to talk with them about making responsible choices.
Sgt. Tim Kelley and Officer Jeremiah Vantrease came out to discuss the implications that seemingly small choices can have on the long-term quality of a person’s life.
Kelley called speaking to the campers a “privilege,” and was happy to be able to engage with the children on a personal level. The sergeant said that people can form all types of impressions about law enforcement from what they see on television, so its important for them to have a real life interaction before jumping to conclusions.
On making the right choices, Kelley said, “9 times out of 10 making the right choice is going to have a long term effect on you better than making the wrong choice, helping you through life.”
He hoped that his message was received by the campers. “It may be the one thing they needed to hear to send them in the right direction.”
Kelley complimented the program’s director, Reggie Hatcher, and volunteer, Eddie Thompson, for the “good job they do with the kids,” adding that he would recommend the camp to anyone old enough to participate.
Program Director Reggie Hatcher said that making good choices had been a theme in years past because it’s so important for young people to realize how choices can make or break their future.
Hatcher explained that the camp, which has been going on for eight years, offers the kids a lot more than just teaching them the significance of the decisions they make though.
“These kids, some of them don’t get a summer vacation, so we like to think of this as their summer vacation,” said Hatcher. “We do it the whole month of July on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:15-7:15 p.m. Since a lot of them don’t take vacations, they really look forward to this.”
The camp teaches the fundamentals of basketball and how to play a team sport. One camper, Kayden Young, an 11-year-old from Lebanon who is getting ready to go to middle school said he has “learned a lot of stuff about how to play basketball.”
Kayden said he has also made a lot of friends along the way. Basketball is his favorite sport and he wants to play when he gets to Walter J. Baird. But he said that’s not all he learned at camp. He said he’s learned that being on a team takes good communication and he added that it’s been helpful for him to control his temper when he starts to get mad.
The rising middle schooler’s fondest memory from camp came a few years ago when he was the youngest participant. “I came when I was eight and Reggie gave me a basketball at the end of practice,” he said.
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to hold the camp last year, due to pandemic concerns. This year, Hatcher said that since the COVID numbers were down, “We felt like we could do it safely, but we still wanted to be cautious.”
As an IT specialist for the Wilson County School system, he interacts with students a lot. He said he was approached by several students asking if they were going to have it this year.
Previous summers had been held at the city gym behind the police department, but since the numbers were smaller this year, the gym at the WCCL building was sufficient.
Hatcher said the program relies on the instructors who are former basketball players from Lebanon.
Freddie Hall is one of those instructors. The 34-year-old Lebanon High School alum and current assistant track coach for the Blue Devils is in his second year with the camp.
“The most rewarding part is seeing the kids have fun. They don’t really get to go outside or have a place to shoot ball. It’s important for them to be able to pick up a ball and just be a kid,” he said.
Hall added that the program really does teach other important life skills, like being disciplined and being able to listen to authority figures. “At some point in your life, you’re gonna have to listen to somebody and follow the rules,” he said.
Another instructor, Staci Andrews, has been volunteering for five years. She said that she liked the smaller number format this year’s class size offered. “We have more instruction with each kid versus having 100 kids, where it’s harder to be one on one.”
Hatcher agreed with Andrews’ comment. “I actually love a smaller group because it allows for a more intimate experience,” he said.
Andrews played basketball at Lebanon High School for four years, so she is very passionate about the game and what it can teach young people. She lamented that if anything the camp was too short.
“I wish they would open up something more for the kids instead of just the short summer camp.”
Hatcher said the reason for the short camp is that they don’t want to compete with other seasons going on at different levels, forcing the kids to decide which one they wanted to do.
Being back in the gym brought back fond memories for Andrews who said she played in the same gym when she was younger, so she was happy she could “give back.”
Alongside Andrews was Chanta Stephen, another instructor and a full-time probation officer in Wilson County, who said that the kids are a pleasure to work with. “You always have that one that you want to help more than others,” she said, but as the self-described “goofy” one of the group, she felt like she can reach children going through a difficult time more easily than some of the other instructors.
Stephen said the best thing about the camp is keeping up with the children as they go on to other leagues. “We like to go out and support them when they make local teams and see if they apply what we taught them.”
Hatcher said that the campers can come from anywhere, but that most of them come from the east side of Lebanon.
Hatcher is grateful to the WCCL because with its help, they are able to make the camp free of charge. Through donations and contributions, it’s all possible and all worth it.
“I enjoy it, the kids enjoy it. In the long run it’s about giving back to the community,” Hatcher said.