ROANOKE, Va. – Thursday marked the opening night of an annual summer program meant to teach young people skills both on and off the basketball court.
The Lea Youth Outdoor Basketball League returned for its sixth year. Organizers say it is a community effort to lift up kids and teens in the City of Roanoke.
“It’s telling young people, ‘We care about you,’” said Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea, one of the co-directors of the League.
Every Monday and Thursday night through mid-July, children and teens will gather at Eureka Park in Roanoke for the League that’s presented by Lea and the Roanoke Police Department.
Lea said the League and the opportunity to keep young people engaged come at a crucial time. Roanoke has experienced several recent acts of violence involving teenagers.
“We’re doing a lot of things to deal with our youth to keep them out of that kind of trouble, " Lea said. “That’s why we’re putting emphasis on things and talking about it and letting them play basketball.”
Lt. Jimmy Price with the Roanoke Police Department said this is a great opportunity to interact with and mentor young people involved with the League.
“A big part of community engagement is just coming out here, having the community know that we are part of this community and they are part of us. That partnership is something we want to grow,” Price said.
Organizers hope the time on the basketball court and time spent with police mentors and community volunteers can help Roanoke’s youth grow in character.
“Making sure they understand the importance of being good people and staying in school, being obedient to your parents, not being bullies and they can be all that they want to do,” Lea said.
Several community organizations, including the Salvation Army and Straight Street, are providing supplies, food and support for the League.
The League is free and runs through mid-July.