BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — In the early 1990s, Yac Sangare visited the United States from his native Niger. A basketball player on his country’s national team, Sangare had received a scholarship to attend a hoops camp in Pennsylvania.
What he saw there blew him away.
“When I was growing up, there weren’t camps,” Sangare said. “I just learned basketball on the streets, really. . . . After that camp, I went back to Niger and wanted to be able to do something like that there.”
A few years later, he and his wife Tracy got that mission rolling with the formation of Hoops4Kids, Inc., a non-profit organization which uses basketball to help promote health education, athletic skills development, multicultural exchanges and life skills. Now celebrating its 20th year, Hoops4Kids has put on programs in several countries, but the pet project of the organization remains the camps it puts on in Sangare’s native Niger.
“The most important thing for me is to get the kids there,” said the 50-year-old Sangare, who now lives in Halfmoon after permanently moving to the United States from Africa in 1995. “It’s a free camp. Nobody pays.”
To help make this year’s camp possible, Hoops4Kids is putting together a local 3-on-3 basketball tournament to help raise funds. The co-ed tournament guarantees each team at least three 20-minute games and will take place April 2 in the main gymnasium of Shenendehowa High School’s East building, with separate divisions for players in grades six through eight, ninth and 10th, and 11th and 12th.
Each team’s entry fee is $60 and needs to be registered with four players. Each participating player will receive a drawstring bag, while division champions will win a T-shirt.
Registrations may be made at www.hoops4kids.org. The deadline to register a team is March 26.
“We want kids to have fun with it. That’s the most important rule,” said Sangare, whose son T.J. played for Shenendehowa’s varsity team this winter, while his daughter Samira played for the Plainsmen before graduating last year. Sangare — who teaches fifth grade at William C. Keane Elementary School in Schenectady — is an assistant coach for the Shenendehowa boys’ varsity basketball team.
Mohawk Honda is sponsoring the 3-on-3 tournament, with the proceeds going to Hoops4Kids. Sangare credited Mohawk Honda with helping to make sure this year’s camp — set to take place either in late June or early July — in Niger will become a reality. Originally, Hoops4Kids had a camp each year, but that’s changed to every couple years during the past decade or so.
“It’s not always easy to raise the money to do it,” Sangare said.
What’s easy is finding kids who want to come to the camp, where each day starts with basketball instructions and ends with a couple hours of health-related educational work. This year, Sangare said a focus during the afternoon hours will be on recycling.
Sangare said he’s hoping for 80 kids on the first day of camp this year, but he’s grown to expect attendance each day to rise throughout the week-long camp. Seeing the extra campers that show up after word-of-mouth advertising reaches them, he said, is one of his favorite parts of the experience.
“That’s what makes it a great event,” Sangare said.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Michael Kelly at 395-3109, email@example.com, or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.
BY MICHAEL KELLY