Gary Winferry wanted to expose the youth of the Augusta public housing system to something other than negative role models and tempting wrongdoings.
So the unit director of the Boys and Girls Club at Dogwood Terrace quickly entered his Augusta Housing basketball team in the Georgia Games in the hope that the players would learn from the experience, if not from a title.
"It's very important to our kids to compete in the Georgia Games," Winferry said. "These kids are around the neighborhoods all summer, and if this is a way to keep them away from trouble, then this is what we'll do."
The Augusta Housing team is made up of players from six of Augusta's 13 public housing complexes and will open against the Matt Moore team today at 9 a.m. in the boys 18-under age division at Riverview Park in North Augusta.
But victory in these Games doesn't necessarily spell success for Winferry and his players, who come from Section 8 housing.
"A majority of these players come from single-parent homes with their mother," he said. "And some of these young men take on two jobs and I admire that about them. Thanks to the housing authority, we may be able to make a difference in a kid's life."
And though the Georgia Games is an important stop for Augusta Housing, it will merely serve as a tuneup for the upcoming Georgia Housing Residence Authority championships in Rome, Ga., July 29-31. The tournament, which boasts 20 of the best public housing teams from across the state, was held at Riverview Park in 1998, with Augusta Housing taking the crown.
"We aren't as strong as last year's team, but we'll rely on our fundamentals and quickness to compete," Winferry said.
Augusta Housing is on a hot streak, recently garnering a runner-up finish in the Peach State Sectional Championships in May, losing to champion Athens at the Boys and Girls Club in Augusta.
The Augusta team is led by Tyrone Taylor, Corey Tyler and Latavis Walker, all Laney High School students. Tyrone and Latavis are seniors; Corey, a sophomore, led the Wildcats' junior varsity team in scoring last season. Latavis is also Laney's starting quarterback on the football squad. Tyrone pumped in 15 points per game in basketball last season.
"I like it; I've been playing with Augusta Housing for four years, and it's helped me more and more each year," said Tyrone, whose older sister Sharon will compete as a junior this season at Columbus State College & University. "It keeps you out of trouble, and hopefully it'll help me move on to college."