PIKEVILLE – Doubling up on the fun to reach as many youth as possible, Operation UNITE brought two Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camps to Pike County on Tuesday, June 29.

The free interactive program tipped off at Phelps High School then, after a brief cross-county intermission, was repeated at East Ridge High School.

Former University of Kentucky basketball star Jeff Sheppard told participants that fundamental skills used to play basketball – or any other sport – can be applied to the rest of your life.

“The best way to get from where you are today to where you want to be is to set a goal,” Sheppard said. “None of us is perfect, but you need to set goals, work hard and avoid being distracted by bad influences – such as using alcohol or other drugs.”

“The best way to stay on a straight line is not to try and do it by yourself,” continued Sheppard, the NCAA’s Final Four Most Valuable Player in the Kentucky Wildcats’ 1997-98 national championship season. “You cannot win in life by yourself. It takes a team. It takes you hanging around the right people.”

Participants in Tuesday’s camp represented Pike, Martin, and Floyd counties.

Two portable basketball goals, donated by Walmart, were given away at each location. Winners at Phelps High were 8-year-old Donovan Belcher and 8-year-old Stevie Layne both of Pike County. Winners at East Ridge High were 11-year-old Rachel Blackburn and 6-year-old Mikey Good also from Pike County.

Assisting at both camps were residents of WestCare’s residential treatment facility in Ashcamp.

“These men have volunteered to assist with these camps — and other UNITE youth programs — for the past five years, said Karen Engle, director of UNITE. “The energy and excitement they bring is incredible and shows others it is never too late to turn your life around.”

During the three-hour camps, presented by Phoenix Products, Sheppard emphasized encouragement and effort as the most important ingredients to achieve one’s goals.

In addition, parents and care-givers attended a brief education program to discuss the importance of talking with children about drugs along with recognizing behavioral and physical signs of drug use.

“Children whose parents regularly speak with them about the dangers of drugs are 50 percent less likely to abuse drugs,” noted Sarah Flynn, PhD, research and community outreach director for UNITE. “Kentucky ranks highest in the nation for the abuse of prescription drugs, so it is vital that your children understand that pills are just as dangerous and addictive as other drugs.”

Only two Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camps remain.

On Thursday, July 8, the program will be at Jackson County Middle School starting at 4 p.m. The final camp of the year will be held at the Knott County SportsPlex on Thursday, July 15. This expanded camp, which lasts from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., will feature several past University of Kentucky players helping Sheppard with the skills instruction.

Since 2006 the camps have drawn more than 3,600 youth participants from 50 Kentucky counties, 10 other states and Mexico.

In addition to Phoenix Products, sponsors for UNITE’s 2010 Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball tour include: Jackson Energy, Knott County SportsPlex, Knott Drug Abuse Council, Leatherwood Elementary UNITE Club, Pikeville Medical Center, Senture, SouthEast Telephone, Walmart and WestCare-Kentucky.

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