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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook

If something is just a “leadership camp,” it can be hard to keep young kids interested. But pair that with the game of basketball and suddenly their attention is grabbed.

That’s exactly the strategy James Carlisle and Brock Lawson had when they started a leadership camp for youngsters in Alexander City. Now in its second year, the leadership camp has nearly doubled in size and it’s reaching even more kids than that on its “Sunday Funday.”

Carlisle and Lawson’s original idea for the camp sprung from wanting to help youth stay disciplined, on the right track and off the streets.

“About two years ago, there were a lot of young black males getting shot and killed either by each other or the police,” Carlisle said. “We just thought we had to do something to do our part and help to give back to the community. We got together and wanted these young brothers and sisters to be leaders instead of followers.”

Through basketball, Carlisle and Lawson teach the youngsters how to be pillars of their communities and not be guided by bad influences.

The eight-week summer camp, which meets three days a week, also featured guest speakers. Benjamin Russell boys basketball coach Jeremy Freeman and former Central Coosa coach Joe Belyeu spoke to the kids as well as a pair of professors from Alabama State University.

“It was a lot of people there that went through adversity when they were smaller and they fought through it and now they’re successful,” Carlisle said. “They didn’t stop or give up on their dreams. We bring in people like that to help us assist us and show these kids they can do anything if they put their mind to it.” 

The faith-based camp meets from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the summer, and Carlisle also hosts the “Sunday Funday” at the Charles E. Bailey Sportplex gym. With the blessing of Alexander City Parks & Recreation Department director Sonny Wilson, the “Sunday Funday” will continue and is held from 5 to 7 p.m. every Sunday. It is open to any kids up to age 19, and the court is split into two sides where the kids can play basketball.

Both the camp and the “Sunday Funday” are completely free of charge.

“That’s something that we wanted to do because some people can’t afford even $25,” Carlisle said. “Another reason we did that is we didn’t want any excuses from any parents.”

Because it is free, the leadership camp is run through the help of volunteers and donations. Every Wednesday, the participants received dinner and Carlisle’s sister, Gwen Carlisle, was a huge helper in making sandwiches for the kids. KFC, Wendy’s and The Station also donated food and Wright’s Funeral Home was a sponsor of the camp.

Carlisle and Lawson plan to continue the leadership camp next summer and hope to reach even more kids in the community.

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.