story and photos by Brittany Ransom
It was a packed house at the Van Buren High School Arena on Thursday (Mar. 6) as a crowd of nearly 2,000 gathered to watch the Crawford County Dawgs take on the internationally-acclaimed Harlem Ambassadors. Fans of all ages turned out for the game, which featured not only basketball, but lots of antics and family entertainment.
Kicking off the evening was the Charleston-based group PIPs. PIPs or "Players in Progress," is a youth basketball group for grades Kindergarten through sixth that helps teach children basketball fundamentals, as well as instill self-esteem and sportsmanship. The group performed tricks, group drills and demonstrated their dribbling skills for the audience.
The announcer then welcomed the Crawford County Dawgs and their cheerleaders to the court. Comprised of several local "celebrities," including area media personalities, executives, and community volunteers, both groups were well-received by the crowd as they made their way to the arena. Several cheerleaders demonstrated their own skills, delighting the crowd with their toe touches, cartwheels, and "high" kicks.
Harlem Ambassador teammates also received a warm welcome, as the announcer read their names and background information aloud. Players wowed the audience with slam dunks, hoop tricks, and fancy dribbling, before meeting center court with the Dawgs for tip-off.
Between quarters, Ambassadors invited audience members down for various competitions and activities. Before the second half, hundreds of kids flooded the arena floor to join the team in a group rendition of the "Chicken Dance." Play also paused several times throughout the game as opposing players battled it out in improv dance contests and other games.
Two local teens were also given the chance to compete for college scholarships during the Sykes Halftime three-point shootout. The two were selected from applications submitted prior to the event. After tying in the initial shootout, Van Buren sophomore Cameron Brady and Alma freshman, Shawn Villines, went head-to-head in another round of three-point shots. Brady walked away with the $1,000 grand prize scholarship, while runner-up Villines took home $500.
The event was a collaborative effort between the Crawford County Optimist Club, Rotary International of Alma, and the Van Buren Kiwanis Club. The groups worked together to organize the game, recruit team members and cheerleaders, and sell tickets. Many volunteered at the event, worked as greeters, and took their turn on the court. Several local businesses also took part in the event, serving as sponsors, volunteers, and players.
"Tonight was an incredible example of the community coming together for a great cause," said Cindy Faldon, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Van Buren. "Many volunteers poured lots of hours into putting this game together and making tonight such a success. We are thrilled with the turn-out and to see so many come out to support our local Boys and Girls Clubs."