Hundreds of area students on summer break are enjoying four days of fun, fraternity and athletics thanks to a basketball camp sponsored by the  Fellowship of Christian Athletes and more than a dozen other local government agencies, churches and businesses.

The Caddo Parish FCA Coaches Care 2016 Basketball Camp began Monday (July 25, 2016) at the Gold Dome and Fitness Center at Centenary College. The free coed event continues today, Wednesday (July 27, 2016) and will end Thursday. (July 28, 2016)

Almost 30 basketball coaches, representing most schools across Caddo and Bossier parishes, and drawing from DeSoto and Rapides parishes as well, are taking the time to work not only with their own players, but players from across the region.

“I’m beyond pleased with this year’s event,” said planner Todd Martinez, basketball coach at Captain Shreve High. “To have this number of coaches come in and give their time for a common cause, especially with what’s going on in society today, is beyond fine.”

Morning sessions are for ages 6 through 10 and include breakfast, ending at noon. Afternoon sessions, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., include lunch and are for ages 11 through 15.

This year’s camp builds on a foundation laid last year when Jeremiah Williams at Bossier High School put on a camp for nearly 70 children, but found the high school setting limiting in terms of space for coaches and players.

“By coming to the Gold Dome we are able to do 200 players per session, so we can impact 400 lives,” Martinez said.

The Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office is among the baker’s dozen sponsors whose support allows the FCA to feed the players and coaches and give them morale-boosting T-shirts that help spread the message to friends and family the participants encounter.

“Without the sponsors, we could not give what we’re giving to the kids,” Martinez said.

“This camp is an amazing endeavor,” Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. said. “We support this great effort of our area’s coaches and the FCA to provide positive, fun activities and mentorship to our young people.”

Aside from the Caddo DA, the FCA and Centenary College, sponsors are Caddo Parks and Recreation, the Caddo Parish School Board, Simple Church, WalMart, Honey Baked Hams, Steadman’s Sports Center, Brookshire’s, Super 1 Foods, Port City Screening, Safe Haven, Chili’s and Rotolo’s.

The players appreciate the camp.

“I’ve never been to a camp like this,” said Warren Young Jr., 11, who attends Walnut Hill Middle School. “I’m working hard, having fun. It’s good.”

Zachary Ponder, also 11, attends Shreve Island Elementary.

“I’m working on ball handling, shooting, passing and defense,” he said. “I’ve learned to ball handle better and make easier passes to the goal. And I’ve met some really good ball players and tall kids who can rebound and shoot.”

The older players the youngsters literally look up to also are gaining from the camp.

“I’m doing all sorts of drills,” said Kaalas Roots, 15, who attends Bossier High School. “Dribbling drills, rebounding drills, shooting drills, defensive drills. I’m getting to know the guys better here, having fun hanging out with my friends, making jokes, getting hyped. I’m having a great time with people I’m becoming family with.”

Ainsley Ross, 13 and a student at Greenacres Middle School in Bossier City, said “it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot. And I live in Bossier Parish, so I’ve met a lot of people from Caddo Parish.”

But the camp’s purpose goes way beyond providing fun and activity for students and even imparting the mysteries of basketball. It provides a foundation for life, something the coaches involved bear very much in mind.

“We are trying to work on the kids getting better playing basketball, but also understand things like sportsmanship, having a great attitude, knowing there is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ and promoting Christ as well, through the FCA,” said Leandre Gipson, Booker T. Washington High coach. We focus on there’s more to life than basketball. You have to push yourself and understand that there are times when you have to pray, and know that without Jesus none of this would be possible.”

The camp also helps mold the players, from rural and urban settings, and across racial and social lines, into a team much larger than the five-player setup in hoops.

“It’s building community with all the schools, all the students,” said Ron Meikle, North Caddo High coach. “Right now building that sense of community is really important because of all the problems we’re having in the United States and across the world. There’s a lot head coaches here, head coaches from just about every school in Shreveport and Bossier City. They’re learning basketball, but they’re not just coming in here and playing freestyle. They’re actually going through stations, doing drills, learning how to play, learning how to make themselves better.”

“It’s a tremendous opportunity to bring people together across the cultural lines, the different school lines that are formed, to give us a chance to interact one-on-one,” said Adam Walsh, Centenary College head basketball coach. “We’re at such a turning point in our country, with all the conversations on race and culture. Any opportunity we have as coaches and athletes to impact the next generation is a huge deal.”