COLUMBIA — This weekend, community health educators will combine the fun of basketball with seminars and workshops on healthy life choices in a basketball tournament. The competition is designed to engage teens and their parents in a discussion on love and healthy relationships.
Maureen Coy, health educator for the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, said this event is a first for Columbia. Its focus is to educate 13- to 16-year-olds and their parents about healthy decisions in relationships and to open communication between parents and their children, Coy said.
Event: Love and Basketball
Friday: 6 to 10:30 p.m., Armory Sports and Community Center, 701 E. Ash St.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Armory and Calvary Baptist Church, 606 Ridgeway Ave.
The event is open and free to the public.
"We know a couple things," Coy said. "We know that teens are not getting enough information on healthy decision making about sex, alcohol, drugs and dating. In a survey we did a few years ago, we found out all the kids told us, ‘We know a lot more than you think we do, and we need good information. We need accurate comprehensive information. Our parents don't talk to us enough about it, and our health classes are too limited and too quick.'"
The event, Love and Basketball, is a joint effort between the Health Department, Columbia Parks and Recreation Department and the First Ward Ambassadors, with financial assistance from Boone Electric Cooperative Community Trust and the Youth Community Coalition.
Coy confirmed that so far 13 teams with 97 participants from Columbia, Jefferson City, Harrisburg and Hallsville have signed up for the weekend tournament.
"The concept is to have some speakers that present to the whole audience at the opening of the basketball challenge Friday and also Saturday morning, then to have some breakout sessions," Coy said. "This is all around parenting teens and peer-pressure issues these kids are facing."
Breakout sessions will cover topics as varied as early teen sexual activity, dating violence, parenting teens and abstinence, as well as risk factors and protective measures in teenage relationships.
Akara Ingram, who is on the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Committee, said the breakout sessions are essential in getting the kids to open up.
"It's more intimate to allow the teens and young adults to ask questions," Ingram said. "The approach is more one-on-one than in a gym."
Ingram, who will be heading up a sexually transmitted disease role-playing session on Saturday, draws from experience she gained while working with young adults and teens in St. Louis.
"Shortly after I graduated from the MU nursing school I went to work in a St. Louis clinic," Ingram said. "Girls my age and younger were coming in with gonorrhea. A lot of it had to do with lack of education or lack of knowledge on how to communicate with a partner. That negotiation skill is not there."
Coy noted that previous attempts by the Health Department to involve parents in discussions with their teens about sex and dating ran into obstacles. She said parents rarely come in and ask how they can talk to their children about sex and dating.
"We've tried different formats on how to reach parents in the past," Coy said. "We've gone the class route, but by having an element of fun with the basketball, we thought we might be able to reach people who might not normally go."
Tracy Edwards, chief of the First Ward Ambassadors, works directly with the at-risk kids in the tournament. The ambassadors work to mentor black youth and provide a positive influence in their lives.
"Most of those kids look at us as big brothers or uncles or buddies," Edwards said. "What we try to teach them is respect for yourself. A lot of kids don't know what respect is."
Edwards went on to say he wants the young men and women to understand the impact their decisions make on the rest of their lives and that they have people to come to with their problems.
"We keep it real with them," Edwards said. "Those conversations we have with them are real. We're telling them for their best. Sex, homework or jobs, we're keeping it real in their best interest. We're there for them, they know we love them. Those kids are our interest."