Rising Stars focus on inclusion, basketball

Lower cost lets kids of all backgrounds play
Wednesday, July 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:33 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In high school, Ray Magruder’s Lamar Consolidated High School basketball team advanced to the Class 5A Texas state championship in 1989. As a forward, he was ranked among the top 15 percent of basketball players in Texas. As a parent, he now wants to give children the opportunity to play sports, particularly those who might not be able to afford to play.

Magruder and Kent Murdock of Columbia formed Rising Stars Sports Association for girls and boys between third and seventh grade. So far, about 45 players play on their five basketball teams, and three teams competed in the Show-Me State Games.

The focus of the association is not to win at all cost, but provide an opportunity for kids to play at little or no cost. Some of the association’s players could not afford to play in other associations, Magruder said.

In February, Magruder and Murdock started the nonprofit organization because they thought there was a need for an organization where kids from all backgrounds could play competitive sports. Both founders are parents with children on the teams.

“(The cost of sports) can get very expensive for parents,” Murdock said.

Magruder said that most clubs charge dues of about $15 a month and that tournaments can cost $15 to $40 per player. Rising Stars Sports Association does not charge monthly fees. The only cost comes from tournaments, which are divided among the players. The Rising Stars team plays teams such as the Wolves, Lady Tigers and Mid-Mo Pintos.

Several parents of Rising Stars players help pay fees, while the association provides scholarship funds for those who cannot, Magruder said.

So far, Murdock and Magruder have spent $5,900 to help the association meet its costs. The association receives money through fund-raisers and donations. People have an easier time supporting the association because it is nonprofit and donations are tax-deductible, Murdock said. The kids raised $477 through two car washes in May. A free-throw fund-raiser raised nearly $900 earlier this year.

Besides fund raising, they plan to apply for grants.

“That takes a lot of stress off the community, instead of hitting up businesses or parents,” Murdock said.

The association is in the final stages of filing for nonprofit status. After their status is confirmed, Magruder said they will apply for community youth activities grants form local and national companies.

In its first season, Rising Stars has been able to keep costs down because of the free use of the Smithton Middle School gym. Murdock said they would like to eventually build their own facility.

Besides teaching sports skills, Murdock and Magruder want the association to promote success off the court as well. When kids are young, coaches do not focus very much on education, Magruder said. At Rising Stars, that’s not the case. When a Show-Me State Games basketball game conflicted with summer school, the players were told to attend summer school.

During the Show-Me State Games tournament, the Rising Stars girls 12-and-under team and the boys 10-and-under basketball team both finished third.

All the coaches for the association are volunteers.

“We have volunteers that don’t even have kids on the teams,” Magruder said. “They take quality time out of their day to coach the kids and that’s phenomenal.”

The association did not conduct background checks on its seven coaches. While Magruder and Murdock do not coach all of the teams in the association, they attend several of the teams’ practices to watch the players’ progress and answer questions that might arise.

“They’re at the age where they’re a little soft-hearted, so yelling at them too much brings them down,” said Tanya Owen, mother of 11-year-old Tiffany Bealmear.

Ron Long, who coaches the fifth- and sixth-grade girls basketball team, brought his daughters, Porsha, 12, and Ashley, 13, to Rising Stars after their team disbanded.

“It teaches them discipline, organizational skills and how to work as a team,” he said. “Everyone on this court has developed a lot mentally and physically.”

Magruder’s daughter Alexis, 11, said the team helped the players to become friends.

“We’re like a family of friends,” she said. “The coaches are there to help us get better and they never put us down.”

The group is diverse, racially and geographically. Participants are from Columbia, Centralia, Sturgeon, Cairo, Ashland and Moberly.

Owen said Tiffany has become more active, been able to meet some new friends and does better in school because of the association.

“Everyone on this team treats everyone equally,” Tiffany said.

Another player, Diamond Thrower, also likes how she and her teammates have become friends and work together on the court.

“We help each other with our mistakes,” she said.

Currently, basketball is the only sport the association is running. In the future, Murdock and Magruder would like to see the association include football and baseball.

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