What started as a vision by former alderman Michael McGee Sr. to steer kids from the streets to the basketball courts lives on through one team from the Project Respect Warning basketball league.
The league, which began in 1976, has seen many playground legends move on to college or professional basketball. Players from the original 29th Street team have been volunteering their time at their own basketball camp every summer for 25 years. Their theme is, “What Goes Around Comes Around” and “Never Forget Where You Came From.”
Daryl Banks, who played in the early years of the league, was instrumental in getting the camp started so young boys and girls can learn basketball skills and get some life lessons on how to survive and get along.
If you want to know what keeps Banks motivated in being at the camp, ask him, he will tell you. When he sees smiles on the children’s faces that are having fun on the court without dealing with who knows what at home, he’s happy.
Banks is a diabetic and legally blind. He almost had his left leg cut off from an infection. Banks couldn’t walk for two years. He had multiple eye surgeries. Most of Banks’ hearing in his left ear is gone, but the father of five daughters soldiers on, with the help of Calvin Rayford, another 29th St. player. Together, they run the 29th Street Alumni Association.
“This keeps me going,” Banks said. “This is my life. I’ll be doing this until I can’t.”
The main focus of the two-day camp at North Division was for the kids to have fun, meet someone new and learn some basketball and life skills. It got them out of the house for a while.
“Most kids now, when you and I were growing up,” said Banks, “it was more like, go out and play. Now what kids want to do (is play) video games. They don’t want to go outside.”
Banks played for the Columbia St. team in the Warning League. Then he, Mark and Willie Wade began the 29th St. team in 1986. Their last year in the league was 1993.
Rayford met Banks when he was 14. Their efforts to keep the memories alive allowed them to re-connect with former stars who played for 29th St. and pass on the lessons to the present generation that someone passed down to them.
McDade, another 29th St. alumni. He didn’t need a megaphone because his voice echoed throughout the gym. The kids got some valuable experience being taught by one of the best players in UWM history.
“What I try to do with my kids is try to make basketball and life fun,” he said. “I’m trying to give the kids life lessons as opposed to basketball lessons. All of them are not going to play basketball, so you better prepare them for life.”
McDade, who grew up in Milwaukee, coaches a 5th grade AAU girls championship team in Texas. He pays his own way to Milwaukee and back. Since someone helped McDade along the way, it was only right for him to pass along some of that knowledge.
Mike Wilks, former Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin from King and Rice University, has made a career in the NBA, but he comes back to contribute whenever he can.
“Guys like D Banks, Mark Wade and even Calvin Rayford, Von (McDade), all those guys I grew up watching,” he said. “If it weren’t for those guys, I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things that I’ve been able to do. I feel like it’s my responsibility to come back and give what’s been given to me.”
Local businesses donate money and supplies to fund scholarships and make sure that every kid who finishes the camp gets a book bag with a T-shirt, water bottle and school supplies. Two high school graduates receive $1,500 college scholarships every year.
Steven Summers, one of the two scholarship winners this year, will attend Morehouse College.
“I was real thankful when Mr. Banks called me and told me that I got it,” he said. He wants to study chemistry. “When I was in school and I took chemistry, (my teacher) knew how easy it came to me. She asked if I thought about a career in chemistry. That’s something I know I can do.”
Rayford said every camper will remember the “3D’s:” Dedication, Discipline and Desire.
“We always preach about meeting new people and have fun,” Rayford said. “We want the kids to meet people that they don’t know. Hopefully they can start building relationships and friendships, encouraging and not discouraging.”
There are plenty of male and female positive role models around the camp to keep the behaviors in check. According to Banks, only one kid was thrown out of the 25-year history of the camp because of his behavior.
The organization is also in its 25th year. For the last five years, Banks said, they have been a 501c non-profit group. Providing family services, life skills services and other community programs may be in the foreseeable future.
“If I would have made it to the NBA,” Rayford said, “I would have been here right now.”
Rayford played at Washington High School where he was a McDonald’s All-American and Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball in 1991. He played at the University of Kansas and professional ball in Mexico, Poland, Columbia and North Dakota. Rayford is a long-term substitute teacher for MPS.
The camp was held July 29-30. The scholarship all-star game was July 31 and featured the 29th St. Alumni against the Victor Berger team. The 29th St. won the ninth annual game, 48-46.
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