The multipurpose room in Camden’s new Jackson Teen Center (JTC) filled up with cheers from both the stage and the audience on the afternoon of July 10. The cheers in the seats were, mostly, from boys participating in the JTC and ALPHA Center’s flag football program. The cheers from the stage were all girls showing off cheerleading routines taught to them by two Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) cheerleaders.
Just a few weeks before, most of those girls had been part of the flag football program, open to both boys and girls ages 10 to 16 years old.
Also on stage that Thursday afternoon: JTC Director Brian Mayes and ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper. Off-stage (although all soon to be on stage): ALPHA Center Prevention Specialist Tina Griggs and representatives of the Boys & Girls Club of Midlands (BGCM), which oversees the JTC.
“The girls came to the games,” Mayes said of Griggs’ daughter, Hannah, and fellow L-EHS cheerleader Ainsley Puckett. “It was (Napper’s) idea to have some of our girls start cheerleading.”
Quickly, Mayes said, a cheerleading camp was formed. He praised Hannah and Ainsley for working with the Camden girls.
“They gave up their summer to come here, even though they took all my girls away from football,” he said.
Hannah and Ainsley then sat on the edge of the stage to watch the JTC girls do their routines, conferring with each other every now and then, presumably about additional moves or how something might need to be improved here or there.
After about 20 minutes, Mayes stepped in, leading the boys and others in the audience to applaud the girls’ work. He then thanked Napper, Griggs and others by having them come up on stage, dancing, as he used a microphone to rap out a beat, the JTC kids clapping and shouting.
Among those who ended up on stage were BGCM Vice President of Community Development and Outreach James Brown (whom Mayes brought up to the “other” James Brown’s “I Feel Good”) and Brooks Harper, co-chair for community outreach on the BGCM Board of Directors.
Brown said BGCM board members and staff were excited to visit Camden’s teen center.
“We’ve been working on this for six months -- really, two years,” Brown said. “We knew we were going to have a committee meeting at 4:30 today, but thought it was important to be here now.”
Harper, in rapid-fire fashion, quizzed the kids on advertising slogans.
“Just Do It?” Harper asked; “Nike!” the kids shouted back.
When he got to “Great Future Start Here,” the children didn’t miss a beat, shouting back, “Boys & Girls Club!”
Harper, who is also an author, speaker and career expert, is a member of the BGCM Alumni Hall of Fame. He related how he got involved with Boys & Girls Club early in his life.
“When I was 9 years old, my dad did a ‘Houdini,’” Harper said. “He disappeared and he never reappeared. But thanks to the leadership of men like Mr. BB (Mayes’ often used nickname in Camden), I came out OK.”
He likened Mayes’ job to that of being a bridge between JTC participants and that “great future,” with the BGCM board being that bridge’s pillars.
“Whatever you need, just let us know,” Harper said.
With that, Mayes invited all the BGCM guests to the stage and presented them with the “first” game ball from the flag football program, unused, but signed by all the players and cheerleaders.
Teams participated in preliminary games more than a week ago, with the first official games played Monday night.
In the first of two games played that evening, the Bad Boys, sponsored by the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, defeated a team sponsored by the ALPHA Center, 33 to 19. In the second game, a BGCM-sponsored team defeated a team known as The Urban Stars, 24-18 on a 5-yard go-ahead touchdown with 32 seconds left on the clock.
ALPHA Center and JTC sponsored teams were scheduled to play each other Tuesday night. A game between one sponsored by Atlas Gym and a team called The Generals is scheduled for Thursday night. All games are played at the Larry Doby Complex in Camden.