THE satisfying sound of a basketball swishing the net and the jubilant chatter among the players post-bucket is music to the ears of Gary Martin.
Mr Martin is the chairman of the Grafton Midnight Basketball tournament, which doubles as a support program for at risk youths in the area.
“The tournament is an amazing program which really helps these young men and women’s resilience and their sense of community,” Mr Martin said.
Each program runs for eight Friday nights, twice a year, from 7pm until midnight, with attendees bussed to and from the front door of their homes.
There are six teams in the tournament, with each team comprising 10 young males and females aged from 12 to 18.
“The focus is on good teamwork. We encourage the older kids to help their younger teammates, and we ensure each player gets equal time on the court,” he said.
Mr Martin said the players were given good structure while attending the program.
“We use a red/yellow card system as a deterrent for unacceptable behaviour, and we have two youth workers who the young people can go to at anytime for support.”
He said if a player received a card, the youth worker would talk to them about what might be going on in their life that might be affecting their behaviour.
To have fun playing ball, it’s compulsory for all players to attend a life skills workshop throughout the tournament.
“Workshop subjects include getting ready for employment, money and banking, legal advice from police, drug and alcohol info, healthy living and more.”
These workshops are designed to be interactive to get maximum involvement from the players, and are presented by local support services and professionals.
Mr Martin said he had witnessed grieving young people value the venue as a safe place following a family funeral when adults were drinking.
An introverted youth learnt new social skills and the value of teamwork, and another was released from custody under social worker supervision to attend the tournament.
During the tournament, players are also supplied with a tasty healthy meal, free bottles of water, and fruit platters for supper.
“We want them to experience how eating healthily and staying hydrated affects how they feel, and how their in-game performance is improved by eating and drinking well.
“They also have dinner as a team at their table so they can experience eating and socialising together.”
He said the program relied on the local community, with 30 to 40 volunteers needed for each tournament, and financial donations or free/discounted services sought from businesses.
Click here to read more stories in the pages of the Glove Box Guide to Mental Health special publication.