A room full of proud parents and excited children—all under age 12—filled the cramped hall of the Hancock Recreation Center Saturday.
The size of the room didn’t compare to the enthusiasm of the children who received awards from their coach, Larry Vaughan, for their season with the Hancock Sixers Neighborhood Basketball League in South Kensington.
Vaughan—almost always called Coach Larry—has dedicated his time to Hancock SNBL since 1999, mostly working with children under age 12 each season.
“Our youngest one [player] is 5 and our oldest one is 11,” Vaughan said.
While trying to quiet down his basketball players to start the awards ceremony, Vaughan jokingly threatened them with pushups. His basketball players in white, navy, green and yellow team T-shirts stopped talking immediately.
In the eyes of many parents, Vaughan has given their children a new love and appreciation of basketball. Not one of the parents said that their children would not enroll next year.
“The coaches down here, they try to teach them different ways of doing things. Other ways to stay out of trouble,” said Victor Heard, father of 10-year-old Aaron, a player on the team.
“The things they teach them—responsibility, discipline—keep them out of trouble.”
Staying out of trouble can be difficult in some Philadelphia neighborhoods. Slashed budgets for public schools have also led to fewer extracurricular activities, generating more interest for neighborhood programs like Hancock SBNL.
Donald Mason, league commissioner of basketball operations at Hancock, mentioned these types of programs can help steer Philadelphia youth onto the right track at an early age.
In the program, children not only learn the ropes of basketball, but they also compete in games against neighborhood teams. They practice basketball drills, how to shoot, dribble and pass the ball, and most importantly, they learn teamwork and build friendships.
Assistant Coach Curtis Hightower also shared his philosophy about basketball in young children’s lives.
“I’m a basketball player myself. And one of the best and easiest ways to give back to the community is to get them [children] started off young. You have to grab their attention, with any and everything that you do. You’ve got to start young,” Hightower said.
Besides teaching children teamwork and leadership skills, the Hancock SNBL is really just a place for neighborhood children to have fun.
“It basically makes the children more friendly and they enjoy it,” said Butch Schneider, grandfather of 8-year-old Kacie, a player on the team.
“Right now, basketball is the key to opening the door for some of these children. The sky’s the limit. It opens so many windows of opportunity,” Hightower said.
The surrounding neighborhood helps out with the basketball league. Vaughan said he believes area residents play a huge role in how the league has grown over time.
“The community, you know, they lay the groundwork out for me. They deserve a lot of credit. I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing without them and their support,” Vaughan said.
Parents also help out, especially with a series of fundraisers throughout the season. Between 30 and 40 parents and community members came out for the awards ceremony, showing just how involved and supportive they are of the Hancock SNBL.
The Hancock SNBL tries to keep costs affordable. At $10 per child, Vaughan said the fee is barely enough to cover the cost of T-shirts. However, Vaughan said it’s a small fee for children to come and play together.
The Philadelphia ’76ers sponsor the Neighborhood Basketball League in an effort to get young boys and girls outside and playing basketball together.
More than 4,000 children compete in 60 leagues throughout the Philadelphia area.
As a part of the league, each player receives an official SNBL T-shirt, which shows the Philadelphia skyline, basketballs and the ’76ers’ logo.
Players also have the opportunity to be recognized at a ’76ers’ home game and the chance to play at a halftime game.
The leagues generally run from December to April, giving both boys and girls something to occupy their time outside of school.
Youth basketball is played at the Hancock Recreation Center on Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The Hancock Recreation Center is run by Philadelphia Department of Recreation and also offers programs like gymnastics and art at different times of the year.
“We do T-ball. We also have soccer. We have flag football, and we also run a basketball clinic for children 17 and under,” Vaughan said. Hancock will also add some new sports, including pool, air hockey and table tennis.
Hours for the Hancock Recreation Center are available here.
To learn more about the Sixers Neighborhood Basketball League, visit its website.