The Hope Mills Parks and Recreation Department recently held the first installment of its new Friday Night Lights basketball program for the younger generation in town. By all accounts, it was a tremendous hit.
Stephen Kessinger has been working with the recreation department for about 10 months and, along with new recreation department head Lamorco Morrison, was one of the people behind the idea of the Friday night basketball program. The current plan is to hold the sessions each Friday, starting with the initial one held on June 7 and continuing until July 12.
The target group is boys and girls ages 14-20. Kessinger said registration for the first session started about a month ago. The plan was to cut it off at 30 participants, but they decided to let signups continue past that number and ended up with 44 young people for the first one.
After opening remarks from recreation department staff, the participants were divided into three-player teams. The court was split in half, and two full-court games with a total of 12 players on the floor were held at one time.
Each game consisted of four four-minute quarters with a two-minute halftime. No score was kept. About halfway through the evening, a 10-minute intermission took place.
While the event was planned to be coed, Kessinger said the vast majority of participants in the first one were boys, mostly middle schoolers. Most of the girls in attendance were there as spectators or came with family and friends, he said.
While the games were being played inside the recreation center, two food trucks were set up in the parking lot outside.
Signup for the next session of Friday Night Lights Out started anew at the first session. Kessinger said 25 of the original participants already signed up for round two, which was held June 14.
Kessinger said it was decided not to allow people just to sign up one time and permanently leave their name on the list, in case they didn’t show up and kept someone new from taking part in the event. “We decided to let them sign up each week,’’ he said.
The initial plan was to involve representatives from the Hope Mills Police Department in the event, either just to be present to interact with the participants or to actually play in some of the games. Kessinger said that didn’t happen at the first one but they will continue to work to involve the police.
One thing they definitely plan to add for future versions of the event is a music element, most likely a live DJ playing songs and sound effects and adding commentary.
Another potential change for younger people who were there as spectators would be to add some events for them outdoors, like cornhole boards, in addition to the food trucks, to give them some additional activities of their own.
Kessinger stressed the entire event was free to everyone who took part, and it will remain free for the future no matter what additional things are added to it. The best thing about the first one, he said, was the conduct of the participants.
“We didn’t have a single issue,” Kessinger said. “We didn’t have the first dispute.’’ In addition to two staff members who were working the games, Kessinger said he and Morrison were on hand getting feedback from participants and spectators.
He estimated all in attendance got to play in at least eight games each during the three hours.
“Everyone out there had an opportunity to play everyone out there,’’ he said.