Some youths show up in clusters of three or four, while others arrive alone on Friday nights during the summer.
For many onlookers, the young people’s destination is simply a church parking lot with a couple of basketball goals.
But to die-hard ballers like Jashean Taylor, 14, and Tywon Morton, 12, it’s a blacktop paradise.
“It’s all the kids from the neighborhood coming together to play basketball,” said Morton, a seventh-grader at Douglas High School.
“You get to play with bigger kids, and it’s a better challenge.”
What the teens and preteens might not say, if only because they don’t realize it yet, is that the “Midnight Basketball” outreach at Christ Temple Community Church, 2717 N Kelley, is about more than their beloved sport.
It’s street ball in a sacred space.
Just about a mile from the Governor’s Mansion and adjacent to a convenience store and funeral home, the church’s outdoor basketball area is a place where the “old school” concept of community is alive and well. It’s where preachers, teachers, law enforcement officers and other adults mingle and interact with young people on summer evenings not because they have to — but because they want to.
“The children needed somewhere to go and play and be safe. The church came up with a good idea,” said Marvin Sampson, 56, an Oklahoma County sheriff’s deputy who has helped provide security for the outreach in off-duty capacity.
“It gives them a chance to play without dodging bullets and to have a sense of belonging. It lets them know that someone cares about them.”
Once upon a time, community-minded people treated children in their neighborhood like their own offspring. Children didn’t have to wonder if someone other than their parents cared about them because the elderly grandmother two doors down offered them a dollar or two and maybe a Popsicle every now and then.
Or the older teen who lived next door took the time to show them how to count change or helped them find the school bus stop.
If a child acted out at someone’s home, in school or out in the neighborhood, an adult on the scene would have no qualms about administering swift justice — sometimes just a real good scolding — for the offense. And the child could expect no less once he reached home.
This concept of community comes into play at Christ Temple which has been offering its popular basketball outreach for 15 years, with limited resources but lots of love.
As part of the program run by children’s minister Priscilla Meadows, youths are invited to play basketball from 7 to midnight Friday nights in the summer on a blacktop court that extends from the church’s parking lot. Meadows said the outreach often lasts until 1 a.m. if there is a game not quite finished at midnight.
Older youths play on two basketball goals, while younger children play on a smaller goal nearby. An inflatable moon bounce and activities for the younger children like arts and crafts and easy games also are offered, along with free food such as hot dogs, nachos, bottled water and sports drinks.
On a recent Friday night, children and pre-teens gathered for the ballgames under the watchful eye of Meadows, her brother and Christ Temple’s pastor Krizzo Meadows, and several church volunteers. Krizzo Meadows said he knows something about hooping. He played basketball at Capitol Hill High School and for a short time at Oklahoma City University.
Priscilla Meadows said Midnight Basketball crowds sometimes swell to 150 youths, with the younger children showing up early and the older teens arriving at twilight, when it is typically cooler.
Several church members like David Simms, 64, and Antonette “CiCi” Downing, 28, serve as referees.
As the sun goes down, the competition gets more intense as youths begin to play “for real” and a chance to have bragging rights until the next week.
But church member Bobbie Dailey doesn’t want the young people to forget where they are.
This is, after all, the Lord’s turf.
Prayer in the midst
At dusk, Dailey, 63, announces that it’s prayer time and she has no problem stopping the ball games to get the youths’ attention.
“Hold the ball,” she said, blowing a whistle a few times to emphasize her point.
Before Krizzo Meadows leads the youths in reciting “The Lord’s Prayer,” Dailey asks them to bow their heads, hold hands and form a circle to show reverence to God.
“A lot of young people, if they could exchange places with you, they would, because to come together for fun is a blessing. We want to give God the glory,” she told the youths.
When the games resumed, Dailey said she taught public school for 35 years and now teaches in a private school setting. She said she likes working with the children who flock to Midnight Basketball because she knows they could be somewhere else participating in something less wholesome.
“For some children, this may be the only way they get to know God,” she said. “This is a way to keep them motivated in a spiritual setting. It’s getting them off the street.”
As for stopping the games for prayer, Dailey said the young people expect it by now.
“Prayer is important — it’s the key to the Kingdom,” she said. “It might be the only prayer they hear.”
For church member Simms, the basketball outreach is the latest of his volunteer endeavors since he retired as a construction worker.
Simms paid attention to the young hoopers’ conversations as they played ball, stopping to remind them to keep their words peaceful and not to call each other derogatory names like a racial slur they often hear in popular hip-hop and rap music.
“These are good little men and women. They just need a little guidance and someone to show that they care about them. Sometimes they might misspeak and we try to give them a little guidance,” he said.
Simms said the neighborhood could use more men who can let the youths know that there’s more to life than drugs and that there are men who are working, men who attend church and men who love their wives and families.
Church member Downing, one of the youngest outreach volunteers, said they don’t have a lot of problems with the youths because they treat the young people with respect and the youths, in turn, show them respect.
She said occasionally, she has to remind them that they are essentially at church and the youths realize they have to keep their cool.
“I let them know we’re outside and enjoying ourselves but we’re still on church grounds,” Downing said, smiling.
Meanwhile, Sampson said his father was a preacher and he taught him the importance of giving back to others. The sheriff’s deputy said he sees his volunteer involvement with the Midnight Basketball outreach as a great opportunity to do just that.
Sampson said he enjoys seeing the children — some coming from as far away as Tulsa, Shawnee and Lawton — enjoy themselves on summer nights. He said some of the youths were “little bitty kids” when they first showed up at the church hoop fest and they often come back as adults, some bringing their own children.
Frank Avila, 61, another sheriff’s deputy who recently provided security for the basketball outreach, said Sampson told him about the ministry “and I fell in love with it.”
“They feed the children. They minister to the children,” he said. “I wish there were more of this going on.”
When Midnight Basketball starts, one can expect to see teens like Tilan Nolan, a 14-year-old from Edmond who has relatives who live near the church. Nolan showed up recently and waited for her “crew,” a group of girls who apparently won a game against a group of boys the week before.
“It’s all about domination,” she said, grinning.
Another regular this summer is the basketball player who wished to be known simply as “Blu” — not “Blue” as in the color, but simply “Blu.”
He said he plays on an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team and enjoys the informal games at the church.
Other youths like Alaysia Arnette, 13, and Tyus Roberts, 14, said they live nearby and want the chance to shoot hoops with their friends.
Adrian Walters, 17, also said he comes because he has a bunch of friends who play basketball at the church.
“I’m not saying that I’m Michael Jordan or anything. I just like the sport,” Walters said. “And I like the hot dogs.”
Nearby neighbors have good things to say about the sports outreach.
“The kids see this as a safe haven,” said Corey Davis, who has a home day care several houses down from the church.
She said neighbors hear the games going on but they realize that the youths are playing in a structured environment with adult supervision.
“It’s just kids playing basketball — it’s a good noise,” she said. “They could be doing something else that’s not as positive.”
Tia Prince, 18, who lives in the Heritage Pointe apartment complex near the church, said she often sees young people from the complex going over to play basketball. She said she used to attend the outreach herself.
“Me and my brother used to go all the time. It was fun and it was a way to get out of the house and do something,” Prince said.
She said she hopes to take her young nephew to the outreach one day.
If Pastor Meadows and his sister have anything to say about it, Prince will get her wish.
The Meadows said they plan to keep offering Midnight Basketball as long as they have the resources to keep it going.
Sunday, the church is hosting an end-of-the-season gathering for all the youths that participated in this year’s outreach. Priscilla Meadows said the young people will be treated to free pizza and she has a couple of awards to hand out.
She said she dreams of a day when the outreach can be offered year-round because most of the youths just need something to do on Friday nights.
Meadows said the church has reached out to find community partners in the past because of limited resources. She said they have been grateful this summer for the use of two shop lights that Avila provided so the youths could see after dark.
She said they are always appreciative of Avila, Sampson and the other sheriff’s deputies who provide security. Then there are people like Craig Wiginton, pastor of athletic ministries at Crossing Community Church, whom she said also has been a blessing to the ministry because he provided permanent basketball goals for the outreach.
Also, Clyde Watts with Pepsi has provided soft drinks, juice, tea and water for many years, Meadows said, and James Smith and the Tinker African American Heritage Committee have provided hot dogs in years past.
She said when people hear about the basketball ministry, many of them want to help.
One such person who showed up at the church on a recent Friday was Sandy Crawford, a member of Memorial Road Mennonite Brethren Church in Edmond.
Crawford said she read about the outreach in a newspaper article in the spring and decided to visit Christ Temple. Crawford said she is chairman of her church’s outreach committee and the church had some funds left over from previous outreach efforts. She said they hoped to present the money to the Midnight Basketball program.
“I think it’s a great ministry,” Crawford said as she watched youths play a game.
“This is making a difference.”
How to Help
To donate or provide volunteer help for next year’s Midnight Basketball outreach at Christ Temple Community Church, call Priscilla Meadows at 501-0367.