Steve King isn’t happy with the violence in his hometown.
Shootings and murders are getting more frequent in Akron, he said, and the thugs and their victims are getting younger.
So the 28-year-old King, who now lives in Columbus, helped organize Shoot Basketballs Not People, a free basketball clinic for kids Monday.
The event, held at Innes Community Learning Center in the city’s Kenmore neighborhood, was designed to teach participants as much about getting along with each other as it was to hone their basketball skills.
It attracted about 200 kids ranging in age from elementary school to high school.
“Lots of parents were thrilled” because the event was held on the Presidents Day holiday, King said. “Whether you look at it as a free day’s worth of baby-sitting or a free day’s worth of basketball, it’s still beneficial.”
The Shoot Basketballs Not People concept was started in 2008 in Philadelphia because of the violence there. Founder Garry Mills, 29, who attended the Akron event, estimated there have been 3,100 murders in that city since 2008.
He said he wants to reach city kids through athletics and try to turn them on to attending college.
The Kenmore Youth Basketball League, Essentials Basketball Academy, MKU Athletics and Young Black Professionals Coalition organized Monday’s clinic in Akron.
“Getting them at this young age, I think, helps them develop that mindset that, ‘Hey, we can do something positive,’ ” said Eric Fletcher, 29, of Columbus and a member of the coalition. “We can do other things than just hang out on the streets and sell drugs.”
Organizers urged the kids to get to know each other and to steer clear of violence.
The kids, who got a free T-shirt and meal, learned plenty of skills, including how to dribble, box out and rebound.
Tyrus Toney, 13, of Akron said he learned how to be a team player and pass the ball.
“I just want to get better,” he said when asked why he attended.
Ryan Collins, 11, of Akron said he came to have fun — in addition to improving his basketball skills.
Fletcher said the Young Black Professionals Coalition would like to incorporate Shoot Basketballs Not People events into its regular programming.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.