Earlier this month, the Cheyenne River Youth Project celebrated the return of one of its most popular teen programs. On Friday, Feb. 12, the nonprofit organization welcomed 91 teens to its Čhokáta Wičhóni gymnasium for the first Midnight Basketball event in nearly four years.

Made possible with support from the Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation (DARE),  Nike N7 Fund and Vadon Foundation, the event ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Teens enjoyed four hours of physical activity, competition, food and friendship at the CRYP campus, and according to Programs Director Jerica Widow, there’s more fun to come.

“This spring, we’re planning to offer Midnight Basketball once a month,” she explained. “Once summer vacation arrives, we’ll likely be able to host the program more often.” 

Going forward, the CRYP team also is planning to offer a variety of non-sport activities and games on Midnight Basketball nights. The goal, Widow said, is to be as inclusive as possible.

“We want to reach the kids who aren’t as interested in basketball but still want to enjoy an evening out with friends,” she said. “Right now, we’re getting everyone up to speed and familiar with the program. Not only do we have several new staff members, we have a whole new round of kids!

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to hold an event this size due to the Covid pandemic,” she continued. “I cannot put into words how much it meant to us to have the kids back for Midnight Basketball, to fill up our teen center with teenagers. We missed them so much.

CRYP created Midnight Basketball in 1996, seeking to give Cheyenne River’s young people a safe, positive, drug- and alcohol-free environment to play their favorite sport, hang out with friends, get something to eat, and stay up past the city of Eagle Butte’s 10 p.m. curfew. The program succeeded well beyond the staff’s original vision.

Local law enforcement reported that community-wide crime rates fell on Midnight Basketball nights. The program also helped build the foundation for CRYP’s holistic wellness programming. 

“During a typical Midnight Basketball season, we’ll get 50 to 100 teens at each event,” Widow said. “When they’re with us, they are engaging in healthy and sober lifestyle choices, and they’re embracing the concepts of personal responsibility, teamwork and positive self-esteem.

“Midnight Basketball also has proven to be a powerful tool to alleviate bullying,” she added. “Every time we do this, we see new friendships take shape, and we witness the many ways these kids support each other. It’s wonderful to see it happen.”

To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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.