by Randy Miller / @R_Miller12

The dawn of a new era in Philadelphia basketball began last Thursday at Jay Cooke Middle School as various leaders in Philly’s political, civic, business, philanthropic, and basketball communities gathered together in support of a newly formed entity, Philadelphia Youth Basketball (PYB). Philadelphia Youth Basketball is an innovative, non-profit organization, whose mission is to engage students using a holistic approach in not only developing basketball skills, but also other necessary life skills young people will need to be successful throughout their lives.

Guest speakers, such as Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, current Temple assistant, former 76ers forward Aaron McKie, South Carolina Women’s Basketball Head Coach Dawn Staley, Jon Langel of Ballard Spahr L.L.P., P.Y.B. CEO and President Kenny Holdsman, and Temple head coach Fran Dunphy were on hand to lend their support and speak about the potential impact of the collective’s initiative.

PYB has begun raising money to build a state-of-the-art, 25 million dollar facility on 40 acres of undeveloped land in the Logan section of North Philadelphia. The facility would take up 7 of those acres. The 120,000 square foot facility will include 8 indoor and 8 outdoor courts as well as a stadium-style court which will seat up to 2,000 people. Keeping true to PYB’s mantra of engagement and education, the center will also contain a scholastic wing with a library, classrooms, a computer lab, and a community engagement center. There will be a section strictly devoted to health and wellness where strength and conditioning, injury assessment, and rehabilitation will take place—all of which will be overseen by the Rothman Institute of Jefferson University Hospital and Health System. After a full day of strenuous activity, PYB participants will be able to take advantage of the healthy foods commissary, which has onsite food preparation and nutritional programs.

“I think it’s important, because you have to create safe havens for kids—a place in which they can feel comfortable learning,” said Coach Dawn Staley of the facility. “A place not just where they learn basketball, but where they can learn to cope with life. Where they learn how to write, how to read, nutrition, or health issues that may arise. So it’s holistic in that sense, where they’re not concentrating on one thing. I think there’s balance in what this facility has to offer.”

While it would be easy to become overwhelmed with the details and dimensions of the facility, the heart and soul of PYB’s mission can be found in the School Partnership Pilot Program. Rather than waiting two or three years for the facility to be built, the brain-trust at PYB decided to plant its seeds of change immediately. Temple Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Fran Dunphy, was instrumental in helping the group begin the dialogue to build a partnership with Temple University. Along with Temple University being PYB’s first university partner, it will then serve four middle schools within the university’s community.

At each middle school, there will be after-school programming two days a week with 20 students participating—10 boys, 10 girls. One group will utilize the gym space for a basketball skills and drills session for forty-minutes while the other group is in a classroom space facilitated by two Temple Mentors from the Temple School of Education. The classroom focus is to engage the students in reading and help them develop an appreciation for it through reading aloud, classroom discussions, other interesting projects. At the end of the first forty-five minute period, the two groups switch, and the process repeats.

The most interesting part of pilot program is when the participants at each school converge on Temple University’s campus every Saturday morning for three 8-week sessions (fall, winter, spring) where more skill development and competitive games take place. The enrichment portion of the Saturday session also involves a partnership with the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement hosted by Philadelphia spoken word artist, Greg Corbin. The focus of this class is to bolster literacy skills, public speaking and self-expression through the use of spoken word. Afterward, the students are served a nutritious meal.

After each eight-week session, PYB will be looking to partner with different outside partners to lead the enrichment session every Saturday. While the curriculum for the winter session has yet to be determined, the hope is to develop something related to different career fields within the sports realm, such as video recording, journalism, or the use of statistics and analytics.

The Philadelphia Youth Basketball project is breathtakingly beautiful, not only because of its mission to serve children but also because of its holistic involvement of a diverse group of people. If one were to observe the attendees at Cooke Middle school, they would’ve seen high-level coaches and former professional players, grandmothers and mothers who live in the neighborhood, wealthy donors, a mayor, high school coaches, corporate lawyers—the list could go on. People representing different walks of life, but all playing intricate parts in completing the mission. The effect a little, orange, round ball can have is astounding. #IAmPYB

Photo Credit: Isaiah Nathaniel – MadOptics Productions