EDGEFIELD, S.C. - At 5 feet, 5 inches tall, Carl Lee is taller than most of the other boys scurrying down court in the Edgefield gym where a fast game of basketball is in progress.
The 13-year-old center sports a Chicago Bulls jersey, and he's determined to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Michael Jordan.
Carl comes nearly every day to the gym. He has been doing so since the first week in June, when the city's recreational program got underway. While he's a basketball natural, Carl participates in most of the other sports offered in the summer recreation program sponsored by the town of Edgefield.
But basketball is his sport.
"I want to go to (the University of) North Carolina and play basketball," he said. He doesn't say that he also wants to follow Mr. Jordan to Chicago, but it's clear he hopes it's an option for him.
For right now, the Edgefield gym is the place to be, and he's working on his game there.
"Basically, we're trying to provide the kids a full program and a structured environment where they can spend most of the day," said program director Tommy McClellan, a former girls softball coach at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
Mr. McClellan has an average of 35 kids, boys and girls, in his brood this summer and they do more than play team sports.
"We go on field trips every Friday for a change of pace, and every Thursday we go swimming," he said.
That's at Smith-Hazel Recreation Center in Aiken where Mr. McClellan's kids, ranging in age from 6 to 17, play in the water with their coach. Mr. McClellan is a resident of Aiken and his guests pay the 50-cent fee like the other kids in the water with them.
He frolics with his charges. They stand on his shoulders and dive into the blue water of the pool. He stands, holding a girl above his head, and then dumps her into the water. It's a refreshing two hours.
"The van for transporting the kids and helpers for Mr. McClellan are provided to the town at no charge," said Edgefield Mayor John Pettigrew Jr.
The town has been offering the summer recreation program for five years, he said.
"We provide some structure and guidance in their lives. Some of the kids don't have much of that, especially during the summer, when school is out," Mr. McClellan said.
"They also need a positive male presence and many of them don't have that either."
The kids cluster around their "coach" when he enters the gym. When he sits down, they roughhouse and gather around him, some in his lap, others leaning against him.
He's their friend, their parent substitute and their leader.
"They look forward to me and I look forward to them," he said.
Fridays are special fun days. They went to Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia on Friday, a place many of them had never seen.
"I want to give them as many different experiences as I can," Mr. McClellan said.
Other Friday excursions have included a nearby water park and a "humongous game room" in Augusta. He doesn't do much formal coaching. He says that's not what the summer program is for.
"We want to give them structure and stability and build respect for others in them and basically teach them how to treat other people," he said.
"I like these kids. I think they like me and I love working with them."
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