NEWBERRY — On Saturday, the Newberry County Drug Free Communities Coalition on Underage Drinking hosted the Second Annual Law Enforcement and Youth Community Basketball Tournament in the Eleazer Arena at Newberry College.
In a day filled with excitement and enthusiasm, the event brought together about a hundred middle and high school students, ages 11-18 from across Newberry County, along with over 50 local law enforcement officers, adult community leaders, educators and business leaders to play games of five-on-five on the half court, with four students and one law enforcement officer and adult community leader on each team. The Coalition partnered with the City of Newberry’s Department of Parks and Recreation, Newberry College and the Newberry County YMCA to host the event. Sponsors for the event included: Westview Behavioral Health Services, Joe Trainor/Stokes Trainor, and Whitakers Floor Coverings.
According to Hugh Gray Jr., executive director of Westview Behavioral Health Services, which sponsors the Coalition, the idea for the Tournament came from work done by former Coalition Coordinator Tom Perry, who passed away last year.
“Tom did an outstanding job working with youth in our community, he suggested a basketball Tournament as a means to improve communications with law enforcement and strengthen our community. Tom got the proverbial ‘ball rolling’ and put together a planning committee of Coalition members and Westview staff to coordinate the event,” Gray said. “To honor Tom’s memory and his work, we are continuing to call this event the “Tom Perry’s Better Together Law Enforcement and Youth Basketball Tournament.”
The tournament included teams for middle school-age boys, middle school girls, high school girls and high school boys. There were twelve teams formed for these age groups, with students coming from Mid-Carolina Middle School, Mid-Carolina High School, Newberry Middle School, Newberry High School, Whitmire Community School and Newberry Academy. High school boys comprised the largest age group in the event, with fifteen teams registered. “And the exciting part,” according to Tournament Coordinator Collin Shealy, “was that we had officers from the Newberry City Police Department and the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office; teachers, coaches and principals from schools across the county; and numerous adult community leaders and volunteers that came together to play.”
The Tournament was played on the campus of Newberry College. In addition to sharing its facilities, both the Newberry College Men’s and Women’s basketball teams joined in to help. The members of these college teams ran drills with students during warm-ups, and served as student coaches for the teams. Throughout the event, some of the members of the college teams also joined in to play. Men’s Basketball Coach Dave Davis was the keynote speaker for the Lunch Program, and gave a motivational talk to the students participating.
Games for the middle school students and the high school girls began at 10 a.m., with two games underway simultaneously on each half court. Games for high school boys began after lunch.
Local law enforcement officers playing in the Tournament included officers from the Newberry City Police Department and the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office.
“This event is an excellent avenue for our officers to get to know the youth of our community on a personal level,” said Chief Roy McClurkin. “We want students to know that we are here to help and support them, regardless of the circumstances. I am proud of our officers who took their personal time to play in the Tournament.”
During the Lunch Program, McClurkin and Sheriff Lee Foster had a a “Free-Throw Shoot-Out,” to see who could get the most free throw shots in a short period of time. They were assisted by the Newberry College Men’s Basketball Team. Foster was this year’s champion.
“We both had a lot of fun doing this, and I think the crowd enjoyed watching the competition. We both did our best, but we’re not quite ready for the Final Four yet,” Foster said. “This event is so very important to our community. It was wonderful to see our entire community come together to support these students and enjoy a day of real fun and fellowship. That’s how we build real ‘CommUnity,’ by coming together at events like this.”
To make the event fun for everyone, the Tournament Planning Committee worked to secure door prizes from area merchants. These prizes included a wide variety of goodies, from pizza gift cards to YMCA memberships.
The Tournament also included a vendor area for youth-oriented organizations and other community groups. Vendors included Young Life, the Newberry High School Youth Coalition, MSA Hospice and Home Health, the Newberry County Career Center, Piedmont Technical College, Newberry College Admissions Office, the YMCA, and First Baptist Church of Newberry.
In addition to numerous community volunteers helping with on-site check-in for students, adult players, adult volunteers, and spectators, the event drew on the resources of other community members to help coordinate warm-ups in MacLean Gymnasium and in Eleazer Arena. McClurkin and Johnnie Caldwell with the City of Newberry ran the time clocks and kept score throughout the day. Members of the Prosperity Rescue Squad were on hand to provide emergency medical services.
“This event is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when community members from all segments of the community, law enforcement, educators, and local business leaders come together to support our youth. We had a terrific day, and it was great to see all the smiling faces – everyone was having a good time,” Coalition Coordinator Terecia Wilson said. “Our Planning Team wanted to give these students and adults a fun-filled day, and I believe that was accomplished. We also wanted to let the students know that their community cares about them, and wants to see them grow up to reach their full potential. You don’t need drugs or alcohol to have a good time. Good friends and good fellowship build strong and healthy relationships, and that’s what our Coalition is about – building strong communities that will help our children and youth grow up drug and alcohol free.”