Sparks Helping Kids Through Basketball

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College athletes barely have time to do anything outside of school and sports, but helping out kids in the community is one of the biggest priorities for University of Mary basketball player Darius Sparks.

That has a lot to do with what he experienced in his own youth.

He has always found solace on the basketball court. The sport helped him cope with his difficult childhood when he bounced in and out of foster care.

Now, he's using his experiences and love of the game to help kids in North Dakota.

"With this camp, I'm going to stress that they can be successful no matter what they do, no matter the circumstances they come from, the homes they come from," said Sparks. "Whether it's coming from absolutely nothing to having parents that do provide for them, having both parents, both kids can go either direction and be successful."

Sparks hosted his first Spark Change basketball camp Tuesday at United Tribes Technical College. It's a free boys basketball camp where kids learn a combination of basketball and life skills.

"This is my first year doing it, and so I'm not expecting over 100 kids, you know. I'm just hoping for at least 30 kids to show up and get the most out of it," Sparks said. "Have fun and take home new basketball skills that are learned. And just the words that any of us coaches will say to them. I hope they can just take it in and have as much fun as possible."

Sparks earned a $10,000 Dreamstarter grant earlier this year to put on the camp. That's helped to provide free shirts, basketballs and other gear for the campers.

However, it's not just the free stuff that brings in campers.

"Darius, I watched him play basketball for St. Mary's and I thought he was really good and I went to this camp called the Overnight Extreme and he was there and we hung out a little bit so I wanted to come here," said camper Josh Schwartz.

"He's a big role model, so I just learn a lot about life and also he's a great basketball player so he can teach me how to get better in life and in basketball," said camper Chandler Russell.

He had the support of his Marauders teammates and coaches as they helped out at the camp.

"Just really proud of him. He put a lot of time and a lot of work into the whole process of even receiving the grant, and then he found out how big of a job it is after he got it," said U-Mary head men's basketball coach Joe Kittell. "He was able to organize gyms and get coaches and order shirts and really promote his craft."

Sparks said he hopes this camp will become an annual event in North Dakota and even other states.

Here is the schedule for the remaining camps:
7/22: Grades 7-9 at United Tribes in Bismarck
7/28: Grades 4-6 at Standing Rock High School in Fort Yates
7/29: Grades 7-9 at Standing Rock High School in Fort Yates
7/30: Grades 10-12 at Standing Rock High School in Fort Yates

Register with Sparks on the Spark Change Basketball Camp Facebook Page.