NANCY – Providing opportunities for youth and staying involved with their lives are key elements in preventing experimentation with drugs, Congressman Hal Rogers told more than 50 parents and caregivers during an Operation UNITE program Tuesday, June 7.

“The most important bulwark against the abuse of drugs is parents. That’s why we’re here,” Rogers said during the first Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camp of the summer. “We need to give kids something wholesome, something that’s fun to do.”

Held at Nancy Elementary, the three-hour basketball camp with former University of Kentucky star Jeff Sheppard drew 122 youth participants from three counties (Pulaski, Wayne and Russell) and two other states (Indiana and Ohio).

To view photos of camp click here.

“You will encounter problems. I can guarantee you that. Every youngster is curious.” Rogers said, adding the way to counter the temptation is to make sure they hang around the right crowd. “We want to be sure that (the friends) they want to run with are good.”

Winners of two basketball goals given away during the camp were 7-year-old Emma Johnson of Jabez and 13-year-old Marcus Barnett of Nancy.

Presented by Phoenix Products, Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps are fun, interactive, and provide a safe, drug-free activity where children have an opportunity to interact with positive role models while learning fundamental basketball skills.

Sheppard used the camp to stress the importance of teamwork and making the right decisions.

“You have to play by the rules,” Sheppard said, adding this applied to whether you are on the basketball court or in a school or home activity.

“Every single day you should want to win. That’s how you should think. All of you are winners,” Sheppard said. “It’s easy to drift away by yourself. Find yourself a really good team.”

In addition to highlighting the magnitude of the drug problem in southern and eastern Kentucky, Rogers challenged the adults to keep close tabs on their prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic across the nation, and studies have shown that most teens first experiment with drugs obtained from their family or a friend’s family without their knowledge. During the first half of the year members of UNITE’s 30 volunteer community coalitions conducted an informational campaign called “Accidental Dealer” to raise awareness of this issue.

Anyone with unwanted pills should “get rid of them in the proper way so that temptation is not there,” Rogers urged. He also asked anyone who is “concerned about the abuse of drugs” to become involved with their local coalition.

Meeting dates for coalitions are:

• Pulaski County UNITE Coalition meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the upstairs room of the Economic Development Building, 209 East Mt. Vernon Street (across from the old Virginia Theater) in Somerset.

• Champions UNITE McCreary County Coalition meets at noon on the third Friday of each month in the conference room at Somerset Community College’s McCreary Center, 250 College Street in Whitley City.

• Defensive Action Against Drugs (DAAD) UNITE Coalition in Wayne County meets 6:30 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month at The Aspire Center, 225 North Highway 1275 in Monticello.

Helping make the 2011 Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps possible are:

Gold Sponsors – Codell Construction, Knox County UNITE Coalition, Rockcastle County UNITE Coalition, Senture, SouthEast Telephone and Walmart of Eastern Kentucky.

Silver Sponsors – Citizens Bank & Trust (Jackson), Citizens National Bank (Somerset), First National Bank (Jackson), Huffman & Huffman, PSC (Somerset), and Johnny Maco’s Electrical Contracting (Jackson).

Bronze Sponsors – Alton Blakley Family of Dealerships (Somerset), Community Trust Bank (Pikeville) and St. Joseph-Martin (Floyd County).