McKEE – Winning is much more than merely being the biggest, the fastest, or having the highest score at the end of a game.

What’s important is learning how to play and working together as a team to conquer adversity.

“The best way to get from where you are today to where you want to be is to set a goal,” Jeff Sheppard told the 156 school-age youth participating in Operation UNITE’s Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camp at Jackson County Middle School on Thursday, July 8. “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.”

It’s a message echoed by Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, whose concern over the region’s drug problems resulted in the creation of UNITE seven years ago,

“Whether you’re on the basketball court competing against your biggest rival, or out in the community trying to overcome the adversities created by substance abuse, you need the support and skills of others – your teammates,” said Rogers, who was on-hand to watch the Jackson County camp. “Just as you can’t win a game by yourself, our communities must team up, gear up and stand up to be victorious.”

Participants at Thursday’s camp represented 5 counties: Jackson, Whitley, Laurel, Clay, and Knox. One participant made the journey all the way from Butler, Ohio to experience the camp. Each person received an event T-shirt and Shoot Hoops basketball. In addition, two portable basketball goals, donated by Walmart, were given away at the conclusion of camp. Winners were 10-year-old Paige Jones of Sand Gap and 12-year-old Brandon Hacker of Annville.

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

Parents and care-givers were given the opportunity to attend 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.”

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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