At one time in his life, Antoine Carr actually was short. That's when he was 6 years old, playing Biddy basketball in Wichita.
What Carr remembers most about Biddy basketball is that the baskets were lowered from their usual 10-foot height so kids like him could learn how to shoot with the proper form.
They didn't have to heave it at the hoop the way Carr sees young kids do it these days in Texas, where he lives and where youth basketball plays on 10-foot hoops.
"I think it helped my game a great deal," said Carr, who grew into a 6-foot-9 All-American at Wichita State University and played 16 seasons in the NBA.
On Friday, the Salvation Army announced that it was dropping the Biddy program, which for more than 50 years had helped thousands of boys and girls ages 5-12 develop as basketball players and human beings.
The economic downturn has forced it to focus on its core services, the Army said.
Said Carr: "I'm really surprised they would let Biddy go, considering all the guys I know that this program helped."
Guys like Aubrey Sherrod, Darnell Valentine, Greg Dreiling, Maurice Evans, Cortez Barnes, Johnny Murdock, Korleone Young, B.J. Williams, Darrin Williams...
And gals, too, like Kareema Williams.
And football players, too, like Barry Sanders.
Biddy ball got kids up to speed on basketball fundamentals, taught them lessons about teamwork and life, and kept kids like him out of trouble, Carr said.
"It kept me out of the gang areas and those type of things,'' he said. "It kept me focused on something that was positive instead of pushing me in the wrong direction."
East High boys basketball coach Ron Allen, who was inducted into the Biddy Hall of Fame as a player last Saturday, said he was heartbroken by the news.
"There's nothing greater than watching a kid experience competition at a young age and deal with the ups and downs of it and watch them develop and play the game for fun," he said.
"It's a sad day for us in basketball around here.
"There's got to be some other organization to pick up where Biddy's left off and keep the basketball tradition in this community solid and rich."
The Salvation Army expected an emotional reaction to the move.
"It's been extremely difficult for us to make this decision, but we've been looking at this for a year," said Major Douglas Rowland, city commander for the Salvation Army. "This has not been a quick decision at all."
Rowland said the number of teams in the program had dwindled from 250 to 60 and continues to shrink.
"While that still sounds like a lot of kids, it doesn't sustain the program as it is," he said.
Rowland declined to say how much money the Salvation Army spent on the Biddy program but said it "was a significant portion of our budget, which caused us to take a look at it."
Rowland said the Army no longer can afford to duplicate services provided by other youth basketball programs in the community.
Demands are rising for the organizations core services, particularly in its emergency social services, its youth residential and foster care programs, and its camps and churches.
"Sometimes pruning needs to take place so the rest of the bush can grow," Rowland said.
"I'm sure they have their reasons, and I'm sure their reasons are good," said long-time Biddy Hall of Fame coach and national director Tom Staats, "but I'm just really surprised because there are so many kids that need to be ministered to and looked after in our community."
Staats coached Biddy teams for about 30 years, and guided an all-star 12-year-old team to a world championship in 1984. He coached players like Marcus Ziegler, DeAngelo Evans, Val Barnes, Steve Woodberry and Darren Dreifort.
"It's just been a pleasure to be associated with it. It really, really saddens me to hear they're no longer going to be in existence," he said.
Gerald Leonard, Biddy director from 1991 to 2008, also was sad.
"I'm sad for all the kids that won't have the opportunity to play Biddy basketball, and sad for the city that it will lose a program that brought the city money," he said.
The program hosted the world tournament for 12 years while he was director, Leonard said.
Origin and growth
The Biddy program started at four sites around the city. The Garvey family donated its current facility near Harry and Oliver in 1995, which houses nine basketball courts.
"The most rewarding thing was to see the joy in the eyes of those little players when they had an accomplishment like scoring and making a good pass," Leonard said.
Tom Staats' brother, Ray, regional director from 1996 to 2008, who also coached Biddy teams with players like Maurice Evans and Darrin Williams, said, "You get to be a father figure to a lot of them. Not all of them come from broken homes, but a lot of them came from troubled lives and needed some guidance in their lives. That's what made coaching so fun and rewarding."
Ray Staats said he was disappointed the program was dropped.
"A lot of kids went through the program with the Salvation Army as the guiding light in their lives," he said. "They learned a lot of Christian values, and how we are all working together to achieve a common goal, and that's what life is all about — to achieve a common goal and learn how to work out our differences."