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Camp Hoops

By Christian Knox with The Meridian Star Citizens National Bank Meridian Regional President Neil Henry has been organizing sporting events for athletes with disabilities since he started a TOPSoccer chapter in Meridian 10 years ago. Because of the efforts of Henry and volunteers like him, as well as donations from sponsors, athletes with disabilities can participate in organized basketball, baseball and soccer programs in Lauderdale County. “They want to play just like other kids that don’t have any disabilities,” Henry said. “They want to play just like they’ve seen it. So, I’m just proud that we have basically baseball, basketball and soccer, which are three great sports, covered. It’s really nice to have that for our community.” Five years after founding Meridian’s TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer) program, which takes place annually in the fall, Henry worked alongside his children and Meridian Parks & Recreation Director Thomas Adams to create Camp Hoops, which is planned around March Madness. “Camp Hoops is geared to the special needs athletes,” Adams said. “It’s pretty much just some dribbling, a little shooting, a little fun activity. Just to put some smiles on the athletes faces is a joy in itself.” The 2023 Camp Hoops season wrapped up earlier this month. Athletes received a replica jersey from a nearby NBA team as well as a basketball and a medal for their participation. “It is a program for the athletes. That is the primary,” Henry said. “The secondary is it allows families to bring their kids to come out and support and just show them how to serve others. That’s the biggest takeaway is it teaches our younger generation how to give back.” The program is free for all athletes who wish to participate because of sponsors like Citizens National Bank, Downtown Optimist Club of Meridian and City of Meridian. Subway, McDonald’s and Little Caesar’s provided food for the events. “The turnout has been great, just support from the community, especially volunteers,” Adams said. “As far as athletes, I want to say we gave out between 50 and 55 medals.” The end of the Camp Hoops season means Challenger Baseball, which begins in May, is just around the corner. The program’s coordinators are looking for athletes to participate, but they are also looking for volunteers to help out. “The more the merrier,” Henry said. “We can’t ever have too many (volunteers), especially with baseball coming up. We need them because we may be on multiple fields out there.” Athletes are encouraged to sign up through the Challenger Baseball League Facebook page. They can also show up at the Northeast Park Softball Complex at 6 p.m. on April 21, April 28, May 5 or May 12 for an hour-long event. Volunteers can contact Henry at neil.henry@yourcnb.com. “Who cares about a Friday night, as precious as they are, when you go and serve others and do something for the greater good of others?” Henry said. “It built lifelong memories and friendships that I’d never trade anything for.” Article provided by The Meridian Star Written by Christian Knox with The Meridian Star

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