LOCKPORT – Fundamentals of basketball, positive adult role models, character building: these are three reasons why Sherry Prater of Lockport sent her daughter Heavenly, 12, to Hoop It Up.
“Hoop It Up” is a three-week, grassroots, free co-ed program for fifth through eighth grade Fairmont community youth. Through Hoop It Up, they learn the foundation of the game from enthusiastic adults, as well as teach life lessons.
Heavenly, who plays basketball for Fairmont Elementary School, where Hoop It Up is held, has attended both years, Prater said, and has done more than fine-tuned her skills.
“Being in the program has boosted her confidence," Prater said.
Organizer and head coach is Louis Hardwick Jr. of Joliet. Assisting Hardwich are his two godbrothers – Dwayne Ward of Joliet and Terry Ward of Joliet, both deacons at Church of the Living God in Joliet – and his friend Lionel Meyer of Lockport, girls basketball coach at Fairmond, Hardwick said.
These men are funding the entire program, from the $4.50 it costs per child per week for insurance to the snacks and water bottles they distribute during practices. They are volunteering their time and happy to do it, Hardwick said.
“It wasn’t about the dollar for us. I wasn’t even about wanting companies to donate to us,” Hardwick, 48, of Joliet, said. “It was just guys wanting to do something for the community.”
The idea came to Hardwick after his nephew started playing basketball for Fairmont. Hardwick attended a few games and noticed that many players lacked the basic skills – like dribbling – needed to successfully play the game.
“I know there are camps out there but they’re priced up,” Hardwick said. “A lot of the kids in the Fairmont community don’t have parents able to send them to these types of programs.”
So Hardwick put together a program, contacted his friends and they enthusiastically came on board, he said. Last year, Hoop It Up attracted 24 students and only eight were boys, Hardwick said. This year attracted nearly the same amount of kids. Half are boyt and half
“We’re looking for a female coach that can help us out next year,” Hardwick said.
Skill focus varies, depending on the week. During week one, coaches concentrate on shooting and passing. Week two is dedicated to learning different defense elements. In the final week, the kids learn offsets, scrimmages and then play against each other as teams, Hardwick said.
“We just give them the basics,” Hardwick said. “We want them to be in the know.”
It’s Hardwick’s way of paying back the great male mentoring he received as a child. When he lived in Chicago and after his family moved to Joliet – where if father (deceased) was pastor of Church of the Living God – Hardwick, an only child was “adopted” by the older boys in the neighborhood. They taught him sports and took him fishing, he said.
Older role models appear to be lacking in many youth’s lives, Hardwick said, so he feels it’s important for other men to step in to fill the gap.
"These guys took time out of their lives as teenagers to have a little kid running around with them,” Hardwick said. “Kids are our future and we’re losing more every day. Someone has to help.”
As a Mason, Hardwick said he is encouraged to perform community outreach. Each year, for residents in Chicago’s Engelwood neighborhood, Hardwick distributes holiday meals, hosts back to school drives and arranges events with Job Corps and military recruiters.
Mostly, Hardwick credits the example of his mother, Earlie Mae Hardwick of Joliet, for molding his heart for the community. Hardwick said his mother will help anyone, anytime. By exhorting the kids to practice, Hardwick feels he and the other coaches are instilling enduring life lessons.
“No matter what you do, whether it’s sports, school or business, you must practice your craft every day,” Hardwick said. “I tell them even if they’re just sitting on the porch, they could dribble the basketball.”
Next year, Hardwick hopes to bring Hoop It Up to Joliet in July and to Chicago in August. If it expands this much, he might have to seek donations, he said. He doesn’t mind giving up his summers to volunteer coaching.
“I’m single and I like to help people,” Hardwick said. "It gives the kids something to do.”