ATLANTA — Season 4 of Atlanta's Midnight Basketball program came to an end Wednesday evening with the big championship game. The program is for young men ages 18 to 25, and it's designed to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said he believes Midnight Basketball is so much more than learning skills on the court. He thinks it's one of the best ways for young men to learn conflict resolution.
“This is a community outreach project where everybody is coming out from the players to the players’ parents to the players’ children are out here," Dickens said.
Dickens came up with the idea to give young adults a shot to keep their lives on the right path.
“When you see that car break-ins are down and homicides are down in these areas where we’re having midnight basketball, it tells me that we’re on the right path," Dickens said.
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum agrees with the program helping to reduce crime.
“Last year, we actually saw reductions in crime," Schierbaum said. "I think 11Alive reported on the reductions we saw at every facility we held a midnight basketball, so this is crime fighting at its best.”
James Sanders was one of the young men perfecting his skills playing hoops as a participant in the program.
“It helped me save my life a lot because I could have been out there doing other things doing other things as well," Sanders said. "It’s so much drama, so much violence going on in the world, and this has been so peaceful. It helps people in the community come together for once and stop doing some of the things they usually do.”
Representatives from the Atlanta Hawks also took part in the championship game and hoped to make an impact.
“They’re addressing food insecurity. There’s a Goodr pop-up grocery store outside, career services training truck outside. The Hawks want to be being that. We want to support it," said Jon Babul, vice president of basketball development for the Atlanta Hawks.
Dickens said Midnight Basketball is just the beginning of keeping youth busy and safe this summer.
“Right now, you can go to Atlanta Year of the Youth, and you can sign up your young person, or they can sign themselves up to get a summer job," Dickens said. "We pay an average of $16.63 an hour last year.”
The next Midnight Basketball season will kick off in a few weeks. Young men will also get to go to a job fair and take part in workforce training.