MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - At the heart of our communities are people who go above and beyond to lift others up. Like on the courts at Phelps Parks Recreation Center in south Minneapolis, where a group of third grade boys are learning valuable lessons about basketball and life.
The 'Phelps Falcons'
Shawn Williams first noticed the group of kids a few months ago as a teaching assistant at Best Academy in Minneapolis. He took time to see their potential, and then took them under his wing.
"I seen this group of boys in a classroom, I said they got a lot of energy they're fun to be around," Williams said.
But he also noticed the boys didn't have an outlet for all that energy - no structured athletics or after-school programs. So Williams brought the boys to the nearby Phelps Park Recreation Center, where the classmates became teammates - joining a third grade team: the "Phelps Falcons."
Coach Williams, and all the coaches there, are all volunteer as part of a non-profit program; teaching with love, and by example.
"I had to talk to them a lot about their reactions," Williams said. "The way they react to the referee is the same way you react to your teacher. Same way you respect your coaches, same way you should respect your teacher."
After-school study hall
Along those lines, Williams also wanted to instill a sense of pride in school work. So he started a mandatory after-school study hall, teaching the boys that they're students first, athletes second.
"I decided to keep them right after school so I'm with them all throughout the day from 7:45 a.m. all the way to 3:40 p.m. and then I'm going right in there at 3:41p.m. for practice," Williams said.
And in just these last few months, something incredible has happened. Every one of these boys made the honor roll this past semester. And, their basketball team went undefeated.
"They're already growing up and maturing within months," Williams said.
Non-profit runs year-round athletic program
Pastor Jim Halbur is President of the Phelps Activities Council, the non-profit created to support dozens of teams at the community center, like the third grade boys. The council runs a year-round athletic program that includes sports like football, track and baseball for low-income kids nearby.
"Once kids start in our program, it's amazing it just becomes like a family," Halbur said.
Halbur started the program eight years ago, and has since thrown life lines to countless kids.
"Those are the kids you see just hanging out on the street corners, nothing to do. We believe we're being an answer to the problem, not just complaining about it," Halbur said.
Getting life on the right track
17-year-old Payton Bowdry admits he was one of those wayward kids until he became a "Phelps Falcon." Now he's off to college, with a full scholarship.
"Having more than one father figure that's constantly on your back, constantly checking up on you, constantly congratulating you, motivating you, gives you self-confidence," Bowdry said.
And that's the goal of the program, connect with the kids when they're young, and then hold on tight.
"We want to keep them all the way through 9th grade and if we're not coaching high school we want them to go off and play high school and see what young men they're gonna become," Williams said.
Sometimes, all it takes is a single hand, and a little heart, to get kids pointed in the right direction.
"We're just showing them where the room is. They gotta open the door themselves. We're just trying to show them what skills they have - it's all inside of them, they just gotta bring it out," Williams said.
The Phelps Activities Council is all volunteer and runs on donations. They told Fox 9 their teams are in desperate need of new uniforms, which are simply T-shirts. If you'd like to help and donate, click here.