CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s highly successful Safety NETS Basketball League leaps into its Final Four weekend of action tonight. Tonight officials from Governor Blagojevich’s administration will join basketball legends from the National Basketball Retired Players Association and Jimmy Collins, Head Basketball Coach for the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to help celebrate the success of the first phase of the Safety NETS Basketball League during the Final Four Weekend Championship games.
Over 300 young men from Chicago’s south and west side neighborhoods participated in the Safety NETS late night basketball league, which was created in response to the overwhelming need for more community based youth programs. The league is a late-night sports and job readiness program for young men aimed at addressing the risk factors that make them vulnerable to gangs and criminal activities.
“Last summer, Chicago experienced a surge in youth violence that sounded an alarm for action. The Safety NETS Basketball League, an innovative program to get young people involved in constructive activities, proved to be a step in the right direction as we address high crime rates in our communities” said Governor Blagojevich. “I am committed to making sure that our young people have positive outlets so that they can have a chance to better themselves and their neighborhood.”
The league’s Final Four Weekend Championship games will be held at 6:00 p.m. at the King High School gymnasium at 4445 S. Drexel Blvd. on Friday, October 24 and Saturday, October 25. The final four teams will face off on Friday, and the two finalists from those games will compete for the title on Saturday. The games will also feature slam dunk contest, three point shooting contests and an all-star game.
“The Championship is not only a weekend of fun and sportsmanship, but it is a symbol of the impact this program can have on youth who are given a chance. We as adults need to do our part to lead our communities and youth by providing alternative activities for them, not shutting them out. Late night basketball programs have proven effective in the reduction of crime and criminal activity. Thanks to Governor Blagojevich’s leadership, today we have hundreds of young men involved in something productive. I am proud of the progress we’ve made, and I am looking forward to the second phase,” said Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Secretary Carol L. Adams Ph.D.
In many neighborhoods, crime and violence occur more frequently between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. As a positive alternative to crime and violence during those hours, the Safety NETS Basketball League completed its first phase by launching league sites in four high-risk communities.
“I applaud Governor Blagojevich and Secretary Adams for their commitment to violence prevention in our communities,” said Gil Walker, commissioner of the Safety NETS Basketball League. “I have worked with these young men for the past several months and watched a transformation take place. The Safety NETS program is designed to get young men off the streets and into the gym. Once we have them into the gym, they have an opportunity to listen to our ministry - and that is to be a good person overall.”
Young men 18 through 26 years of age can participate in the league; most are unemployed, underemployed and/or disenfranchised. Players sign a contract to participate in the program and are required to attend mandatory workshops that include counseling, referrals and job readiness instruction. The league features strict rules, regulations and guidelines to ensure safety and sportsmanship among players. The Safety NETS Basketball League is comprised of four divisions with eight teams each.
Governor Blagojevich’s administration continues to invest in communities in other ways. This June, the Governor announced over 10,000 summer jobs were provided to youth throughout Illinois. In addition, last December, the Governor launched the Safety Net Works anti-violence program, a multi-agency initiative that allows the state to combine resources with community-based organizations to help reduce the amount of violence across the state. Recently, Governor Blagojevich signed legislation that will increase sentencing options for criminals who use minors to hold, conceal or utilize firearms to commit crimes. IDHS offers social and recreational activities for young people through its various prevention programs. For more information on DHS services, visit www.dhs.state.il.us.
For more information or if you would like to sponsor a team contact Commissioner Gil Walker at 312-793-1547.
Safety NETS Basketball League sites
Northern Division: Englewood
Salvation Army Gym, 69th Morgan
Eastern Division: Auburn-Gresham
St. Sabina, 1210 West 78th Place
Western Division: East Garfield
JLM Abundant Life Community Center, 2265 W. Jackson
Southern Division: Chatham
South Central Community Center, 1021 E. 83rd Street