By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — Eric Davis sees it all the time.
Young, inner-city kids, mostly elementary school-aged, getting a sparkle in their eyes as they show off their hoops skills in front of their friends.
Davis, the director of Cataract City Basketball League, believes his program has been successful in giving younger kids in Niagara Falls goals to shoot for in life, both on and off the court.
He also acknowledges that keeping the program alive and extending it to kids of all ages in need isn’t easy, especially in a community where poverty is high and public and private financing is often scarce.
“We’re trying to get these kids off the streets,” Davis said. “That’s the biggest thing. There’s no recreation here for them or anything. I feel like we could do a lot more.”
Davis is one of several volunteers who have been working in recent years in an effort to grow the Cataract City basketball program, which is offered through a collaboration with the local non-violence advocacy group, Operation SNUG. The program is organized under the Amateur Athletic Union and has involved dozens of local students from the fourth to eighth grades in travel league basketball games and tournaments. A league organized by the group this summer at the new Legends Park drew more than 240 participants.
Michael Cole, an associate with Operation SNUG, said the games offer representatives from his group opportunities to engage the young basketball players in conversations about more important matters - school, family and life.
“We’ve got a chance to mentor these kids and give them a chance to see how we are conducting ourselves and carrying ourselves and making them see where we are at. It’s like a trickle-down effect. We’re really just trying to make a difference in their lives,” Cole said.
Organizers say they’re committed to continuing their work next year and beyond and would like to expand Cataract City’s offerings to include older students.
Davis and co-director Rodriguez Gayle said their main stumbling block has been funding. League organizers need dollars to pay referees, acquire insurance that allows them to use indoor basketball courts at area schools and send players to tournaments in other parts of the country where they can show off their skills and, hopefully, catch the eye of from prep schools and colleges.
“There are a lot of kids out on the streets that are really troubled,” Davis said. “If we are showcasing them in college, we can help get them into college.”
“We want to give them an out,” Gayle added. “We want to show them a way to get out.”
Cataract City recently took a group of Falls students on a trip to Cleveland where they participated in a basketball tournament. The young players earned a second-prize trophy for their efforts. Cole said it was a big moment for all involved, players and coaches alike. He also believes, with the proper level of support, Cataract City would be able to draw players and sponsors to similar basketball tournaments in Niagara Falls. The ultimate goal, he said, would be to bring sneaker giant Adidas to town as part of the company’s annual basketball tourney.
”That’s our goal is to bring a big tournament here which would be a blessing for the city,” Cole said.
Cataract City organizers are looking for private sponsors to support various league games, programs and events. Area business owners or residents who are interested in supporting their activities, are encouraged to call Davis at 990-3132 or Gayle at 990-4141 for more information.GET INVOLVED Cataract City organizers are looking for private sponsors to support various league games, programs and events. Area business owners or residents who are interested in supporting their activities are encouraged to cal 990-3132 or 990-4141.