“Saturday Nite Lights” a slam dunk with Harlem teens DA offers free Pro-Hoops training to keep kids safe

“Saturday Nite Lights” a slam dunk with Harlem teens DA offers free Pro-Hoops training to keep kids safe

From NY Daily News | December 4, 2011

Manhattan DA Cy Vance is hoping to make uptown streets safer one jumpshot at a time.

Harlem teen hoopsters are getting a shot at strutting their stuff on the hardwood court alongside cops, DEA agents and assistant DA’s. Dubbed “Saturday Night Lights" for turning on the lights at a previously closed gym on Manhattan Avenue and W. 119th St., the new basketball training program is open to neighborhood kids aged 12-16.

The program is run by the Police Athletic League and Ross Burns, the director of Pro Hoops NYC, a company that trains NBA players, college athletes and rich folks who want to “train like the pros."

“If you put a really good basketball trainer in front of a group of kids who like to play, they respond. The Pro Hoops trainers are superstars. The kids love it," sad Vance. “I think this is one of the ways modern law enforcement can create something fun that will actually help make the community safer."

Basketball leagues for underserved youth is not a new idea. But one thing makes “Saturday Night Lights" unique: The $10,000 it costs to run the two month program comes from assets seized from drug busts.

“What the DA is doing is amazing," said Fernando Rivera, whose 6’5 son, Andrew, is a 10th grader at Bread and Roses High School in Harlem. “It’s a beacon for my son and all the kids to keep them distracted from the streets. And it’s a perfect way to use this type of money."

Playing alongside the kids and helping to coach is ADA John Irwin, deputy chief of Manhattan’s trial division and former homicide prosecutor.

Irwin, who played at Georgetown in his college days, said it was well worth giving up his Saturday nights “to be pro- active with an age group we deal with day in and day out as victims and victimizers.

“The vast majority are great kids and just craving something constructive to do," said Irwin. “So much of the violence we see uptown is so senseless -‘I live here on this block and you live there, so F-you.’ One of the goals is to get kids who would normally on the street be suspicious or antagonistic to eachother to get to know each other playing ball."

There are plans in the works to start a similar program in Washington Heights for baseball.

The basketball training camp has been so been so popular, it was expanded this weekend to two nights - Friday and Saturday- so 160 kids can participate.

Harlem 10th grader Cameron Bowen loves the program so much, he stays for both sessions, running and dribbling for a gruelling four hours straight.

“It keeps me motivated for basketball cause I really want to make it to the NBA," said the 5’9 guard, who lives a few blocks from the gym. “I love how they teach us how to dribble, to shoot the correct way, and really motivate us to play ball. And that we are not bad kids."

If the Saturday night program didn’t exist, Bowen said, “I’d probably just stand outside talking to friends and doing nothing, or be in the house playing video games or on Facebook bored."