On Friday, June 11, the Cheyenne River Youth Project will welcome teens back to its Eagle Butte campus en masse for the first time in nearly 15 months. Summer is here, Covid-19 is on the wane, and it’s time for Midnight Basketball.

The fun will begin at 9 p.m. and run until 1 a.m. on Saturday, June 12 — and it will be 100-percent outdoors. In an abundance of caution, CRYP staff is shifting the program from its longtime home in the Cokata Wiconi gymnasium to the parking lots outside the teen center.

“We purchased portable outdoor hoops, and we have enough for the kids to play three different games simultaneously,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s youth programs director. “We’ll have great prizes, and snacks and art activities under the Cokata Wiconi entrance canopy. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

As always, Midnight Basketball is open to youth ages 13 to 18. Executive Director Julie Garreau said local teens can’t wait to come back to play ball — and she noted that the CRYP staff can’t wait, either.

“We’ve felt lost without our kids,” she explained. “We’ve missed their energy, their ideas, their enthusiasm, and their laughter. We’ve been counting down the days until we could welcome them back.

“It’s interesting that the first big program to return is Midnight Basketball,” she added. “It’s one of our original programs, going back to the early years of The Main. It’s a heartfelt connection to the roots of CRYP.”

The nearly 33-year-old, nonprofit youth organization created Midnight Basketball in 1996, hoping to find a way 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 — not only did it result in lower community-wide crime rates around town on Midnight Basketball nights, according to local law enforcement, it helped build the foundation for CRYP’s holistic wellness programming.

“In a typical Midnight Basketball season, 50 to 100 teens will participate each weekend,” Widow said. “Those kids are engaging in healthy and sober lifestyle choices, and they’re embracing the concepts of personal responsibility, teamwork and positive self-esteem. That’s so important to us.”

According to Garreau, Midnight Basketball also has proven to be a powerful tool to alleviate bullying.

“Every weekend, we see new friendships take shape, and we witness the many ways these kids support each other,” she said. “It’s fantastic. And it’s going to be even more powerful this year, as our kids celebrate being together again after such a long, stressful, and frightening year. We’re honored to serve them, and we’re so grateful that we can be here for them.”

One of CRYP’s longest-running and most loved youth programs, Midnight Basketball remains a signature component of the youth project’s ongoing Native wellness initiative, 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, relevant and sustainable youth wellness programming on the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation.

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.