When participants lined up to begin Operation UNITE’s Shoot Hoops Not Drugs camp in Harlan on Thursday, it was obvious the 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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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/.