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Beyond the court

DEMOPOLIS — One of the city’s biggest annual traditions kicked off Tuesday as an estimated total of 150 young people gathered in the gyms at Demopolis Middle School, Demopolis High School and the Theo Ratliff Activity Center for the Theo Ratliff Basketball Camp.

“It’s great for our city. It’s great for our kids. Theo does a great job of coming home and doing this,” DHS basketball coach Jesse Bell, who oversaw the camp activities at the high school Tuesday, said.

“I’ve been coming back since I’ve been in the league. It’s a great opportunity to be able to come in and touch kids and be able to give them a positive message,” Ratliff said. “I wanted to do it for free to give all the kids an opportunity to come out and not have to worry about a financial burden on their parents.”

The free camp, which began yesterday and ends today, offers students instruction in various fundamental aspects of the game and allows for assorted team and individual competitions.

“We always do fundamentals. We started off (Tuesday) morning with offense. Then we moved to defense,” Bell said. “Then, at the end of the day, we do some team stuff to keep them interested.”

Additionally, it provides each participant with lunch each day and a commemorative T-shirt as well as individual awards for exceptional performances.

“These kids enjoy it. They work hard. They’ve got a great attitude,” Bell said.

The camp utilizes head coaches at each of the three facilities while also relying on help from assistants, who also volunteer their time and services to help with the effort.

“This is going to be great for these kids, really,” one such volunteer, Pete Bizzell, said.

Ratliff said he has been encouraged by the number of young people who have come to the camp over the years and gone on to great success partially as a result of their experiences at the event. He believes such success stories also serve as an encouragement to other campers.

“It’s a very positive thing for the younger kids coming behind them to be able to see that success,” Ratliff said. “I’m glad I’m able to have some type of influence on their thought process with the game and just life in general.”