FORT KNOX – Cadets from the Kentucky National Guard’s Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy spent several hours learning the basics of dribbling, passing and shooting basketballs from former University of Kentucky point guard Jarrod Polson during Operation UNITE’s Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camp Tuesday, September 14.

More important, the 64 cadets received positive life-skill and self-esteem messages that emphasize the importance of being drug-free during the camp.

Polson, who was part of the University of Kentucky’s 2011-12 National Championship squad and named a four-time All-SEC Academic Team member, emphasized that the same strategies that make you successful on the basketball court also apply to other parts of your life.

“In life, just like in basketball, you have to be in the right spot at the right time,” Polson said, adding it is your choice where you want to be. “You have to (make the choice to) stay away from things that keep us from succeeding.”

Presented by the Kentucky National Guard, Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps are fun, interactive, and provide a safe, drug-free summer activity. Youth will interact with positive role models while learning fundamental basketball skills. Polson relates these fundamentals to situations participants will face later in life – maintaining a healthy lifestyle, listening, teamwork, effort, and living with the consequences for making poor decisions.

“UNITE is pleased to be able to expand the Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps to the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy,” said Tom Vicini, deputy director of Operation UNITE. “We have an excellent relationship with the Kentucky National Guard, and have provided Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps to the Appalachian ChalleNGe Academy in Harlan County for years.”

“Last year our cadets thoroughly enjoyed the virtual Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camp experience,” said Anthony Willems, Program Coordinator for Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy. “It was a lot of fun and very educational for them. I know our staff, especially, was looking forward to being able to provide this camp in person, and to be able to interact with Jarrod.”

“Anytime we can have positive role models come and spend time with our cadets is always a win for us,” Willems continued. “We’re thankful to Operation UNITE and Jarrod for taking time to impact the lives of our youth.”

There have been 11,674 youth participate in 88 Shoot Hoops Not Drugs basketball camps since its inception in 2006. These youth have represented 63 Kentucky counties, 20 other states, and 2 other countries.

As part of each regional camp, UNITE provides parents and guardians a brief drug awareness program. To date, 2,601 people have received drug awareness information.

Polson, a native of Wilmore, Kentucky, went from a walk-on to a scholarship athlete before his freshman year at UK even began. Over his four years at UK, Polson played in 94 games scoring a total of 140 points with a .424 field goal percentage (.313 three-point percentage).

The mission of the Kentucky National Guard ChalleNGe programs is to intervene and reclaim the lives of at-risk youth to produce program graduates with the values, skills, education and self-discipline necessary to excel as adults. These academies are a premiere residential alternative education provider, developing and producing academically and socially competitive young adults who believe they can achieve their dreams. 

In addition to the Kentucky National Guard, helping make the 2021 Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camps possible are:

GOLD Sponsor: Appalachian Wireless of Ivel, KY.

SILVER Sponsors: AmeriCorps-Kentucky, C&P Quality Meats of London, Citizens Bank of Kentucky of Paintsville, Cumberland Gap Mountain Spring Water of Middlesboro, Frontier Behavioral Health of Salyersville, King’s Daughters Medical Center of Ashland, UA Local 248 Pipefitters of Ashland, Members Choice Credit Union of Ashland, Perfection Rubber and Supply Co., Inc. of Catlettsburg, Rise Above Group of Louisa, and Walmart.

BRONZE Sponsors: Bailey’s Furniture & GE Appliances of Salyersville, Chad’s Hope Teen Challenge Center of Manchester, Hometown True Value Hardware of Salyersville, Jerraco Drilling Supply of Oil Springs, Sanibel House of Catlettsburg, and Shields Law Office of Catlettsburg.

For more information about Shoot Hoops Not Drugs or other Operation UNITE initiatives, please visit