HARLAN – When participants lined up to begin Operation UNITE’s Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camp in Harlan Thursday evening, Oct. 10, it was obvious this program was going to be a bit different from all the others.

It might have been the matching purple, red or black T-shirts that provided the first clue, but there was little doubt after the 72 young men and women were given permission to remove their canteens.

The 16- to 18-year-old participants are members of the National Guard’s Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy’s (ACA) third cadet class.

View photos from the camp.

Former University of Kentucky all-star Jeff Sheppard guided the cadets through a series of basketball skills instruction while focusing on the importance of leadership, teamwork and importance of being drug-free.

“The best team wins the championship, not the individual,” Sheppard stated. “It’s very important in life, just as it is in basketball, to be in the right position and surround yourself with the right people who will encourage you and support you. You also have to listen and to give your best effort.”

The 22-week ACA program is offered free to youth working to overcome problems in their lives. In addition to providing an education alternative, the course is designed to instill the same skills, values and self-discipline necessary to succeed in today’s society.

Daily activities are structured around a military concept that includes a focus on discipline, integrity, teamwork, physical fitness and perform at least 40 hours of community service.

“There are things in life we can control, and things we can’t control. Sometimes it looks like things are stacked against you,” Sheppard said. “Don’t stay focused on or worried about what you can’t control.”

“Each of you has been given an awesome opportunity. Take what you’re given and run with it,” Sheppard continued. “You have to choose whether to give your maximum effort, to make the best choices. The best way to be about yourself is to be about others.”

Holding a Shoot Hoops Not Drugs Camp for the cadets is part of an on-going partnership with ACA, said UNITE President Dan Smoot.

“We have been very impressed with what the National Guard has been able to do here,” Smoot said. “The ACA program serves the needs of many young people in our region and reflects the goals and mission of UNITE.”

Earlier this summer, cadets from ACA’s second cadet class assisted with SHND camps in Bell and Leslie counties and the monthly Harlan County Hooked On Fishing-Not On Drugs events.

Cadets have also assisted with Eastern Kentucky PRIDE, local festivals, the Harlan County Little League, Harlan County School System, Southeast Community and Technical College, and the Harlan County Animal Shelter.

The Challenge Program began in 15 states in July 1993, and has operated in Kentucky since July 1999. The ACA began changing the lives of young people in July 2012.

For more information or to obtain an application for the next class contact the Academy Admissions Office by calling toll-free 1-855-596-4927 or visit their website at https://www.ngycp.org/site/state/ky2/.

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.

This is the eighth year UNITE has offered Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps throughout southern and eastern Kentucky. Since inception, 6,749 youth have participated in the program.

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.