By Anna-Marie Menhenott
MARTIN COUNTY -- The undeniable sounds of sneakers squeaking and basketballs bouncing on a hardwood floor are reminders that hard work and determination pays off.
After months of planning, Stuart City Commissioner Troy McDonald's personal project of "Nite Hoops" came to fruition in a gym near downtown Stuart.
Sigrid George, Stuart Middle School's principle, and Marty Moon, assistant principle, agreed to give use of the school's gymnasium on Friday evenings to Commissioner McDonald, and Jeff Montpetit, supervisor with the city of Stuart community services. From there, children in the community were invited to learn basketball and listen to guest speakers all while enjoying the safe haven of the gym.
"We have a saying around here: 'Saving the world one child at a time,'" said Mr. Montpetit. "If a program costs $10,000, and it keeps one kid out of trouble, it's worth the investment."
Guest speakers like Mike Leatherwood, famed Indian River Community College head basketball coach who retired after 37 seasons with the Pioneers, engages the youngsters with important lessons about life.
"Coaches have so much influence and power that the good coaches can recognize teachable moments. We use sports as a vehicle to teach those lessons," said Mr. Montpetit.
He explained that there are lots of kids who show up to play on a Friday night.
"We don't turn any kid away," he said. "We only ask that they are here by 6:30. After that, the doors are locked. First, a guest speaker talks with the kids about everything from personal hygiene to college recruiting. Then, we have some basketball drills and end the night with scrimmages. We have all different ages that come out. Nobody is told they're too old or too young. Everyone is invited."
Nite Hoops is a 13-week program that not only develops basketball skills, but develops the player as a person. Kids are asked to turn in progress reports regarding school work, attendance, attitude and participation in class. Students who are having trouble in school are given counseling on how to make better choices and how to improve overall.
The Stuart Middle School Gym is open at 6 p.m. on Friday evenings. Nite Hoops takes place from 6:30 - 9 p.m.
For more information, call Mr. Montpetit at (772) 288-5340.