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The Journal Gazette

  • Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette In its first season, Late Night Basketball, a Saturday night program at the Renaissance Pointe YMCA, drew 600 participants over its six-week stretch. The program targets black males, but is open to everyone.

  • Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette FWPD Deputy Chief Derrick Westfield, right, and Mike Armstrong of Fort Wayne United talk during Late Night Basketball, a year-round Saturday night program at the Renaissance Pointe YMCA, which started last fall.

Saturday, March 11, 2017 10:15 pm

Program provides 'somewhere to go'

Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette

At 13, A’marhion Glover is a little young for Late Night Basketball at the Renaissance Pointe YMCA on the city’s south side.

But come Saturday night, he’s there every week whether it’s on or not.

"If they don’t got it, I go to the park and shoot around," saysA’marhion, an eighth-grader at Jefferson Middle School. He plays on the middle school’s basketball team, but Late Night Basketball gives him an opportunity to stay busy on a Saturday night and "shoot around with the older guys," he explains.

Since Late Night Basketball started last fall, about 100 young men show up every Saturday for the free program that runs from 8 to 11 p.m., said Iric Headley, executive director of Fort Wayne United, the mayoral initiative that sponsors the program. Although the program targets black males ages 14-25, no one is turned away.

Fort Wayne United is a combination two national entities, Cities United and My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative of former President Barack Obama. The goal is to divert these young men away from urban violence and into better health, educational and employment outcomes.

Similar to Memphis Gun Down and NOLA (New Orleans) For Life, Fort Wayne United’s basketball initiative drew 600 young men during its first season last year and there’s no reason to believe there will be any fewer this season. Six weeks on, two weeks off, players can come with their own teams or on their own. 

No data exist to compare the local program with others often referred to as midnight basketball, representatives from the National League of Cities said. Fort Wayne is one of 11 cities participating in strategic planning with the National League of Cities and Cities United to engage this population.  

The formula isn’t magic, it just offers what the young men need where they live. Speakers pump out music as they bring their street game inside. 

The first and last nights, there’s food. Domino’s donated pizzas during the last session.

Although there are rules, Late Night Basketball is "just fun," according to participant Khrisean Davis, 17, a former Wayne High School student who now attends Smith Academy.

While he claims he’d be sleeping if he didn’t have Late Night Basketball, his teammate Mahylik Lowery, 17, a former Northrop High School student now at Horizon Christian Academy, said the program gave him "somewhere to go."

Somewhere to go is important for young men living in urban areas where violent crime is prevalent.

"Statistically, crime happens after dark," Headley said. With black males at the top of the homicide statistics and the No. 1 group most likely to be killed – often for ridiculous reasons, Headley says – it makes sense to develop a program like this.

So many organizations are involved that the Saturday night basketball fests have little problem drawing caring volunteers. David Nicole, CEO of United Way of Fort Wayne, is a dedicated volunteer, and Joe Jordan, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne is there in his warmup suit watching the action.

Tamyra Kelly, public relations liaison for East Allen County Schools and Fort Wayne United board member, came to sit awhile in the bleachers.

Karen Staton, pastor of Destiny Life Center Church on Warsaw Street, was there to get inspiration as she plans to start a basketball league with one of her church members.

Headley and others encourage companies to come with job offers in hand and on one Saturday, two representatives from Lawn Envy, a landscaping business, were there to recruit.

Basketball may be the draw, but Headley and others want to benefit these young lives in different ways.

A’marhion already knows he wants to be a physical therapist. Tracy Davis, community engagement director with Ivy Tech Community College Northeast, has a table set up and wants to help.

"He has a goal," she said, looking over to where the young man stood. A’marhion could start at Ivy Tech and transfer to any university to finish the degree, she said, plotting his course.

Another young man who interested Davis was William Smothers, a student at Snider High School who will play basketball there next year, he said. When he was 6, his mom died. The 15-year-old who lives with his father said he has anger issues.

"Basketball helps to keep myself calm," he said. 

It also keeps him from "being out and about all the time," and helps motivate him to be something better, he said. If basketball is shut down, his option is to sit at home and write music.

These young men need attention, according to a recent report from Cities United. Exposure to community violence is one of the most important factors when it comes to what is called the "neighborhood disadvantage," affecting educational and economic outcomes. 

Exposure to violence brings on problems associated with mental and behavioral health including post-traumatic stress disorder, aggressive behavior, depression and anxiety.

"Violence generates urban inequality and is generated by urban inequality," the report states. Last year, Allen County reported 49 homicides, the majority of them on the city’s south side. 

As city leaders search for answers to end violence, particularly gun violence, Late Night Basketball is one step.

Enthusiasm is such that Amos Norman, executive director of the Renaissance Pointe Y on Bowser Avenue, said no promotion is really needed.

"There’s a buzz. You see it on social media," Norman said. Norman is at the registration desk when the players walk in as is Headley. They joke with them. Deputy Chief Derrick Westfield sits close by, not in an intimidating way, but an easy, friendly way. Later he sits on the bleachers with a group while they all share a laugh. 

Kelly, who sees many East Allen students at Late Night Basketball, said the program is one way to show young men that adults care.

"They talked to me about jobs. They’re talking to me about my life. That’s a powerful statement to show these young men that somebody cares, that their lives matter."