This month, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, commemorated a very special milestone. It concluded Midnight Basketball’s 20th anniversary summer season at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center.
According to Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director, Midnight Basketball attracted between 50 and 100 teens each weekend. They came from communities across the Cheyenne River reservation to play ball, participate in a variety of games—including Around the World, Knockout and 3-Point Contest—and to compete in 5-on-5 tournaments.
For many of these teens, the Midnight Basketball program is about more than simply finding a positive, safe space to connect with friends on a Friday night.
“I work hard and dedicate myself to basketball,” said local teen Charlie Kunz. “I see what goes on around here, and I see how so many people never get to show their talents to the world. I know what I can get out of it and what I’m capable of, if I continue to do well.”
Tyra Lends His Horse agreed, noting, “It’s not how good you are at basketball. It’s how good you want to be down the road.”
For other teens, the importance of the program goes even a step farther than that.
“Basketball isn’t just a daily sport for me,” Randie Little Star said. “It’s a lifestyle that I chose.”
The staff at CRYP understands this very well. When the youth project launched Midnight Basketball in 1996, its goal was to encourage holistic wellness among Cheyenne River’s youth. And it most certainly has done that.
“The program fosters healthy and sober lifestyles, physical fitness, personal responsibility, teamwork and positive self-esteem,” explained Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It also helps alleviate bullying, because it brings kids from all social circles together.”
She observed that many of the teens who might otherwise get into trouble around town choose to come to Midnight Basketball rather than stay on the streets. The proof, she said, is in the law enforcement statistics.
“Community-wide crime levels go down on Midnight Basketball nights,” she said. “That makes the program important for the well-being of our entire community as well as for the kids themselves.”
The brainchild of a former long-term volunteer, Midnight Basketball is one of CRYP’s most successful programs. During the summer season, it’s held on Friday nights from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., and youth ages 13 to 18 are welcome to attend.
But the start of school doesn’t mean the end of Midnight Basketball, as it did in the early days. Thanks to the Cokata Wiconi teen center and its full-size gymnasium, CRYP now can host evening events throughout the school year.
“In the beginning, we had to host it in a school parking lot with portable basketball goals, so it was limited to the summer months,” Garreau recalled. “Now our teens can play ball indoors on our campus, which means we can offer Midnight Basketball year round.
“That’s a big deal, because this is an impoverished rural area where there are few options for evening recreation,” she continued. “Our teens are incredibly passionate about basketball, so this program gives them the safe, healthy, engaging space to do something they love.”
In addition to being one of CRYP’s longest-running and most loved youth programs, Midnight Basketball is a signature component of the youth project’s ongoing wellness programming, made possible in part by grant support from the NB3 Foundation, the N7 Fund, Diabetes Action and Research (DARE) and the Wellmark Foundation. Their support ensures that the youth project is able to continue pursuing culturally sensitive and sustainable youth wellness programming on the Cheyenne River reservation.
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The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.