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Trailblazers’ Ratliff holds basketball camp

Most people would moan and groan if you mentioned high-speed sprinting, but the young bodies in the Theo Ratliff literally jumped to the occasion.

“Are y’all tired yet?” Portland Trailblazers center Theo Ratliff asked the children yesterday during the first day of his two-day basketball camp.

“Nooooooooo,” a crowd of voices yelled back.

“Who wants to run suicides?” Ratliff asked the sea of 7-9 year olds.

Some raised their hands, while others jumped off the bleachers, onto the court and began the running drill.

“It’s my energy drink,” Ratliff laughed as he looked at the crowd of bouncing youngsters.

The 6-foot-11-inch tall center said he’s been hosting the camp for area children just about every year since entering the NBA 11 years ago.

“I grew up here and I know how important it was for me when I was growing up to participate in the little things. Just being a part of recreation, swimming in the pool and playing ping pong,” he said. “So, I wanted to give kids in the community a nice facility that’s a safe, functional environment where we could continue to educate the youth. I wanted it to be something that would make them proud of the community and show them what it is to give back.”

For Ratliff, the free camp not only provides participants with the fundamentals of basketball, but it’s also a way to teach them discipline in both basketball and life.

Ratliff also believes it’s important to “touch people personally” instead of simply putting his name on the event – which puts a smile on both the participants’ and parents’ faces.

“This is such a positive thing for the kids. My daughter and I participated last year and this year I brought my nieces and nephews. It’s seven of them in all,” Thomasville resident Gloria Hawkins said. “It’s great the way he’s giving back to the community. The kids have enjoyed themselves and they look forward to coming back next year.”

Evergreen housing authority employee Doris Richardson packed 28 children in a bus and left their hometown at 5 a.m. yesterday to participate in the camp.

“We’ve been coming for three years. We really enjoy Theo and he loves working with the kids and the community,” Richardson said. “He’s a very positive role model for the children because even though he’s famous, he’s still so down to earth.”

“All they’ve been talking about is the video game,” Ratliff smiled, “but to be a good role model, I have to be hands on. My core goal is to show the younger participants how to be great citizens in the community and for the older ones, I want to teach them that it’s all about work ethic, having dedication and getting things done.”

Just as they were yesterday, approximately 300 basketball players will be spread across the city as the younger balers gather in the Ratliff Center, middle school students play in the U.S. Jones gymnasium and high school players practice on the Demopolis High courts.

“This was the first time we had the camp at the center,” Ratliff Center director Edward Ward said yesterday, “but things are going well so far. It’s very similar to the Jr. NBA basketball program.”

After practice today, Theo, local coaches, students, family and recreational staff will gather for a cookout at DHS to celebrate the end of two days of hard work and serious training.

“I try to do something different every year,” he said. “Last year we did a celebrity basketball kind of thing. This year we are having the cookout and we’ll try to think of something different for next year.”

Although last year’s event was bigger, Demopolis High coach Jesse Bell said the lower numbers may be a decrease in numbers, but they mean increased benefits for the students.

“We’re down about 50 people from last year. But that means smaller groups and more room for individual attention. We can also have more team competition and a lot more focus on fundamental workouts,” Bell said. ” There’s a lot of talent developing in this community and this event is a great success for the schools and the city. The sponsors and coaches are doing a great job.”

Ratliff said he also plans to expand the Demopolis facility in the future in order to provide more room for the entire community.

“I want to give kids and adults in the community more room with classrooms, workout facility and a computer room so we can take the computers out of that hallway and get them in a proper set up,” he said. “We have to continue to develop – not only for the youth, but for the adults as well.”