Yes, we have sports
From Backpacks to Briefcases
By Vincent Lyles
President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee
“How can I learn more about your programs?” is a question I’m asked frequently about Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. Another frequent question is sports related, “I want to get my child involved in sports. What do the Boys & Girls Clubs offer?”
Many people in the community still think of us as a “gym and swim” provider.
Sports and fitness is just one of several areas of programming we offer for youths ages 5 to 18. All Boys & Girls Clubs’ programs and activities are designed to impact children and teens as it relates to their academic success, civic involvement and the building of healthy lifestyles. Furthermore, all of our programs, including sports, serve to help them develop positive attitudes, values and beliefs that will enable them to succeed in life.
For instance, one of our sports programs is the TP Elite basketball league. It is sponsored by Boys & Girls Clubs alumnus and 17-year NBA veteran Terry Porter. Hundreds of young athletes have benefited from high-quality coaching and have competed with and against some of the region’s most talented basketball players.
Many of our Club members who take part in TP Elite secure scholarships to play college basketball such as recent Marquette University recruits Deonte Burns and Duane Wilson, Jr., of the Mary Ryan and Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Clubs, respectively. Some of our members even go on to become professional athletes like Michael Wilks, who played several years in the NBA and overseas. He attended Boys & Girls Clubs from the ages of 6 to 17. Wilks went to Rice University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. When he retired from professional basketball, Wilks transitioned into a career in real estate investment. He describes his time as a Club member as “life-shaping.” At the Boys & Girls Club, he said he had a safe haven that provided him with a healthy environment away from the crime and other negative influences in his neighborhood. Wilks also said his Boys & Girls Club “was a place where I could get the encouragement I needed to develop the self-belief necessary to be successful in life.”
For athletes like Wilks, being part of Boys & Girls Clubs is more than just a place to hone basketball skills. Boys & Girls Clubs were and still are places where adults like Charles Jordan teach young people how to set goals and create plans to achieve them.
He’s the sports and fitness coordinator for the Mary Ryan Boys & Girls Club. CJ, as he’s known, also coaches its football team and the Club’s TP Elite basketball team. CJ has said one of his biggest accomplishments is when Club members in his sports programs earn a college scholarship and eventually a college degree.
CJ shared this story about one of our Club alumni: “I always told him ‘it’s what’s in your heart’ that matters whether on the court or in life. Today, he’s attending a junior college in Denver on a basketball scholarship.” Not too long ago, this young man wrote a letter thanking his Boys & Girls Club coach for being a positive role model. It’s employees like CJ who teach our young people how to truly win in life.
Boys & Girls Clubs has a lot to offer Milwaukee’s youths, and sports are just one way for us to connect with and reach them. Through our various sports, education, civic, health, environmental, and arts programs, children and teens have a gateway to opportunities that can lead them to personal victories. And when that happens, we all win.