JACKSON – An overwhelming turnout at Thursday’s Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camp helped make 2013 a record-setting year for attendance.

DSC_0158-goal winnersA total of 189 youth representing five Kentucky counties (Breathitt, Lee, Owsley, Perry and Wolfe) and the state of Ohio brought total participation in the six Operation UNITE regional basketball camps to 1,012 – an average of 168.6 per event.

This was the eighth year for the free basketball camps, taught by former University of Kentucky all-star Jeff Sheppard. Shoot Hoops camps combine basketball skills instruction in conjunction with anti-drug and self-esteem messages.

Sheppard emphasized the importance of following the rules, listening, working hard and making good choices.

“Sometimes, just because you are in the wrong place you get in trouble,” he said. “Knowing your position, where you’re supposed to go, and what to do is important in both basketball and in life. If you learn how to follow the rules when you are young it will be easier as you get older.”

Sheppard also emphasized the necessity of teamwork.

“If you don’t work together you will lose. You have to surround yourself with the right people,” he said. “That’s why we’re here today with UNITE. We want you to be part of our team.”

All participants received a free event T-shirt, regulation basketball and were entered into a drawing for two portable basketball goals given away at the conclusion of each camp. Goal winners in Breathitt County were 9-year-old Chris Stewart of Jackson and 12-year-old Charlie Hubso of Lost Creek.

Presented by Codell Construction Management and Senture, 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.

In addition to the camp, more than 85 parents and guardians in Breathitt County attended a brief UNITE Foundation education program about the problem with synthetic drugs and how to talk to their children about drugs.

Grayson Smith, field representative for Fifth District Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers, emphasized the importance of caregivers to keeping youth drug-free.

“Be involved in their lives. Know what they’re doing. Be open with them,” Smith said. “They have to be comfortable coming to you. We have to be prepared … and do the best we can in battling this at every stage.”

“You don’t realize what a first step this is in addressing the prescription drug crisis,” Smith added. “It’s something that we face. It’s always present.”

Approximately 400 parents were provided information during the 2013 educational meetings.

Helping make the 2013 Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps possible are: Enough (Lifeline of Carter County), Flowers Bakery of London, Inc., Laurel Grocery Company, Walmart of Louisa, Pineville Rotary Club, Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy, Chad’s Hope Teen Challenge Center, First National Bank of Grayson, WestCare Kentucky, Wilhoit Law Office, Breathitt County Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) and Grayson Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation.

Since Shoot Hoops Not Drugs began, 6,677 youth have participated in the program.