By Greg Gelpi
Damien Edwards, 16, would rather be inside playing basketball than out on the streets getting into trouble, adding that many of his friends have been killed on the streets.
Edwards, a New York native, is one of about 100 youths choosing to play in the Riverdale Youth Basketball League, rather than hang on the streets and potentially become involved in delinquent activity. The league had 40 players last year, its first year.
The league is "encouraging" the players to play harder and to work as a team, Mike Evans, 16, said.
"It's keeping a lot of folks out of trouble," he said.
And that is the aim of Lindsey McDaniel, 39, the organizer of the league, - to reach juveniles through a language they are receptive to, the language of basketball.
Evans said he just hopes for his team to "come out on top" at the end of the season.
McDaniel, though, hopes that the players come out on top of life as well.
"You talk to them about basketball and then you turn it around and talk to them about life," he said. "What we try to do is keep them off the street and out of trouble."
Determination plus preparation equals success, McDaniel said, reciting the slogan he regularly passes on to his players.
He would prefer to watch the teens grow up before him on the basketball court, rather than grow up behind bars, he said.
The league is proving successful, McDaniel said, with new players showing up each week.
"They call me every day of the week asking if I'm going to open up the gym," he said. "They're hungry for it. I have to go to work in the morning. They want to keep playing."
Along with teaching them basketball, McDaniel and other volunteer coaches teach life skills, and a workshop is being planned to focus solely on life skills.
"You may not be going on to college, but you'll be going into the job world," he said. "You can't go into an interview with your pants hanging off your butt."
The coaches hit the basics of basketball and throw in basics about life, including time management, decision making and communication.
"I see kids who may live on the same street, but they may not even talk to each other (before joining the league)," McDaniel said.
Riverdale already had recreational basketball leagues, McDaniel said, but those leagues tended to be cost prohibitive. His league cuts costs by holding its practices and games at Riverdale First United Methodist Church and allows players to join the league at the lower cost of $50.
The league has two divisions, one for players ages 11 to 13 and one for those ages 14 to 16. The league of 10 teams still has room for more players in the younger league, McDaniel said. Anyone interested in joining should call him at (404) 643-9430.