Basketball program steers youths away from trouble

Hoopz Excellence, a basketball program started in Jackson Square, is celebrating a decade worth of helping at-risk youths.

Robert A. Lewis, a JP resident, founded the program so kids would have a safe environment to go to after school. Besides teaching basketball, the program focuses on education and keeping the kids free from gangs and drugs.

“We want the kids to learn, have fun and enjoy themselves,” said Lewis.

Originally drawing players from only the Jackson Square area, Lewis broadened the program’s reach after the second year. He said he wanted to wipe out the territorial tendency of some youths by having kids from different neighborhoods, such as Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester, join the team.

“I wanted the kids to interact on a competitive basis,” said Lewis. “There are a lot of areas these kids can’t go. I wanted kids from all over.”

The critical time to reach the youths is between fifth and eighth grade, according to Lewis. The players on this year’s squad were picked two years ago when they were fifth-graders. They will stay in the program until they graduate.

“It’s about youth development and building character,” said Lewis. “We want to instill character in them.”

In the past, Hoopz Excellence had several teams. But after funds from the Peabody Foundation dried up, and realizing they would accomplish more by narrowing their focus, Lewis said he and his staff decided to go with one team.

Money continues to be a problem, and the last two years the program has instituted a small fee. But Lewis commented that the community has helped out through such efforts as bake sales.

The program’s number one goal is for the players to attend school and get an education. Lewis said there is “no negotiating” about this.

“The key to everything now is that you have to be educated,” said Lewis.

He spoke of his experience of growing up in the troubled Bromley-Heath housing project. He said he was able to avoid the pitfalls that surrounded him by going to St. Mary’s in Brookline on scholarship and receiving a good education.

In addition to education, Lewis noted another critical part of the program is bringing in the family of the kids.

“The whole key is to get the family involved,” he said. “There are so many distractions compared to even 10 years ago. Ninety percent of kids, their fathers aren’t around. The mothers do a lot.”

And family is important to Lewis. After his brother passed away, he created the Gordon “Flash” Lewis Memorial Tournament seven years ago. The three-day tournament is held at the Hennigan Community Center during the winter holiday vacation and has teams throughout the Northeast area, including New York City. His mother and sister attend the tournament every year.

The memorial tournament marks the beginning of the season for Hoopz Excellence. The team plays in various Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and Youth Basketball of America (YBOA) tournaments across Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

That gears the team up for the YBOA National Tournament in July. The program has reached the nationals every year except its first in existence.

“We have been fortunate,” said Lewis. “We have kids who work hard.”

Lewis and his partner Greg Lawson hope to raise money for a 10th anniversary banquet in August. Lewis said among people recognized at the banquet would be mentors from the Brotherhood Alliance. That group consists of past players holding self-esteem, violence prevention and other workshops for Hoopz Excellence.

For more info about the program, contact Robert Lewis at 857-249-9049 or [email protected]


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