South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice statistics show that most crime involving youth and teen sex resulting in pregnancy take place between 6 and 9 p.m., according to Brain Mayes, newly hired director of the Jackson Teen Center. To keep both boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 16 off the streets and out of trouble, Mayes has teamed up with the ALPHA Center, city of Camden and Kershaw County Recreation Department to create a new summer nighttime flag football league.
A committee, made up of Mayes, ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper, representatives from some of the partner agencies as well as the city of Camden and Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, worked on the project for several months. During a luncheon Wednesday at the ALPHA Center, the committee announced that the league would launch June 16 and run through the second week of August. Games will be played at the Riverwinds Field off Old River Road in Camden on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
So far, there are 12 sponsored teams ready to be formed, with four pending. Those sponsored have already raised the $25,000 needed to launch the flag football league. Napper said money is still being raised and, if any money is left over the committee may create another program of some kind for the fall.
“But this means that it is free to kids and their families,” Napper said. “All they have to do is come out, play and have a good time.”
Napper and Mayes recently took 20 at-risk boys to Camp Woodie in Pinewood. The same group of people who helped send those boys to the camp -- at no charge -- also raised the money for the flag football program. To date, team sponsors include the ALPHA Center, KershawHealth (two teams), Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Carolina, First Baptist Church of Camden, Ned Towell, Julian Burns, Atlas Gym, Reel Gun & Pawn, Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office, the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, First and Community Bank.
If enough children sign up, and businesses and organizations are willing to sponsor them, Mayes and Napper hope to ultimately have between 16 and 18 teams in the league.
Next steps include scheduling the teams for games, signing up referees, assigning coaches and signing up kids to play.
“Now is when we need to start getting kids signed up. We probably had what, Brian, 60, 70 kids wanting to sign up? We’re going to go ahead and start now. Depending on the amount of teams … we can put anywhere from 10 to 15 kids on these teams. So, you’re talking over 200 kids that will have something to do three nights a week during the summer months,” Napper said.
Participants will be asked to arrive at the Riverwinds Field at 5:30 p.m. There will be an educational program before games get underway, followed by a prayer. Each game will last about an hour with free snacks being served afterward. There will also be a “Super Bowl Championship” game at the end of the season at Zemp Stadium.
Wednesday’s luncheon also served as an announcement of sorts for the new Jackson Teen Center. The center, located in the former Continuous Learning Center across from Camden High School, hopes to open this summer. Mayes is serving as the campus director, with recent Winthrop University graduate Aleeka Moody acting as program coordinator. The Jackson Teen Center is a program of the Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands and overseen by Area Director Robin Saviola.
“The Boys and Girls Club has the longest history of working with teenagers,” Mayes said. “This summer, we’re going to save some lives.”
Like the flag football league, the Teen Center’s goal is to keep young people occupied, in this case from when the school bell rings in the afternoon to 6:30 p.m. In a way, it’s a partial answer to the question of what will happen when Safe School/Healthy Students grant funding for local programs ends next month.
Napper and Mayes said they have heard -- and Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, confirmed -- that gangs outside of Kershaw County are already coming back into the county trying to recruit children.
“(But) this is the town that can get rid of gangs,” Mayes said. “They’re looking for people who don’t have a family. They’re looking for people who don’t have anybody to talk to. Let’s give our sheriff nothing to do. Let him deal with the adults; let’s handle the children for him. Let’s make it easy.”
Napper had a challenge for people like himself.
“Fat, balding old men like me need to get off their butts and get out there and show these kids that you care,” Napper said. “We’re in a danger point right now. When this grant ends, the gangs are ready to start coming back into Kershaw County. If you look around, you’ll already see them starting to hang around on the street corners, starting to talk to our kids.
Mayes said the Jackson Teen Center is accepting donations. According to a list published on Facebook by Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan, the center needs folding tables, metal folding chairs, desk chairs, couches, lounge chairs, office desks, bookshelves, pool table and sticks, foosball table, bumper pool table, stereo, DVD player, officer equipment, microwave, refrigerator and picnic tables.
Email Mayes at email@example.com for more information.
“There’s something for these young people to do all day. If somebody comes up to you and says there’s nothing to do in Kershaw County in the summertime, tell them, ‘You’re totally mistaken.’ Contact the Boys and Girls Club, contact the recreation department and contact the ALPHA Center. There are things for these young people to do,” Napper said.