July 9, 2014

Basketball draws Wichita youths to new mentoring program

One of Wichita’s newest nonprofit organizations opened its doors this week.

One of Wichita’s newest nonprofit organizations opened its doors this week.

By 8:30 a.m. Monday, the two basketball courts at Champion Church Gym on North Oliver were ready for hours’ worth of pickup basketball and fun. About 25 kids attended the first day at the Pickup Game, a youth basketball and mentoring program started by Wichita resident Jordan Harris.

Basketball, Harris said, will be a vehicle to mentor area youths, with weekly guest speakers, field trips and seminars on personal finance, applying to college and career development. He said he also plans to teach them about the dangers of bullying and the importance of family.

While the mentoring talks and lessons don’t begin until July 21, the program has taken off, Harris said. The promise of basketball has been enough to attract kids to the program, many of whom live within walking distance of the courts.

“One kid came in, looked at the gym and said, ‘Hold on, I’m gonna go get my cousins,’ ” said Harris, who comes from a family of basketball players that includes his brother Lance, a former Wichita State University Shocker. “He came back with five or six more kids. It’s been great.”

On Tuesday, Harris was a referee, court manager and counselor for the kids, including 10-year-old Chase and 9-year-old Leon Harris. The brothers had been at the gym since 9 a.m. until their uncle Fred Crayton, a former North High School basketball coach, arrived at 1 p.m. to pick them up.

“This is a great program,” Crayton said. “Anything to help the kids. They really love it.”

On July 2, PUG partnered with Champion Church, Word of Life Ministries and Biddy Basketball, a recreational basketball league, to host an opening celebration that included face painting, blowup bounce houses and a car show. About 300 kids attended.

PUG had reason to celebrate after it received donations from Primary Care Associates and Applebee’s that will pay for its gym rental for just about the rest of the year, Harris said.

“This is exactly what I imagined myself doing,” he said. “The dream is coming alive.”

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