Shoot Hoops, Not Drugs! Program Aims to Educate Youth on the Dangers of Drugs



Morgan Hall

The Ashland Beacon

   This past Thursday, children from all over the county attended a Project Unite Basketball Camp that was hosted at Boyd County High School. The children signed in and were invited into the gymnasium, where the Project Unite volunteers prepared them for basketball camp. The kids would be fed a good meal at the end of camp, and also received a T-shirt and a signed basketball that was provided by the Kentucky National Guard. This program is offered entirely free to any interested children in the community. Parents that decided to stay with their children were also given a brief seminar by Carl Varney on the drug epidemic and how it is affecting our youth.

   Upon meeting the CEO Nancy Hale, she beamed with pride as she explained that this program is now 18 years old and it combines basketball and awareness of the growing drug epidemic. Hale states that, “You have to have three things to be successful in curbing the drug problem: Law enforcement, treatment and education.” That’s why Project Unite has a wonderful approach by highlighting Jarrod Polson and letting him work with the youth basketball program, Shoot Hoops, Not Drugs! Polson often tells the children, “ If you make a mistake, you’re still learning and you must keep trying to succeed.” It sends a good message to the children, to always try your best and keep working for the things that you want in life. Polson is a four-time All-SEC Academic Team Member. Polson was a walk-on to the University of Kentucky basketball team and he earned his spot.

   Tom Vicini is the Deputy Director of Project Unite. During the pandemic, they struggled to keep their program operable and they were only able to do two of the five planned basketball camps this year. However, he was absolutely delighted with this camp's turnout. Vicini said, “We’re so glad to be back in the community and raising awareness. To see the kids having fun, that’s what it’s all about.” Vicini said. Vicini has 43 years experience as a baseball coach and he continues to be passionate about youth sports and the positive difference that it can make in children's lives.

   The three hour camp provided a safe activity for the youth, with an opportunity to interact with positive adult role models. During this camp, they were taught positive affirmations and chants like, “Unite strong!” The youth participants pledged to remain drug free. The parents attended a Project Unite Educational program with Carl Varney on stimulant drugs, including drugs like Methamphetamine, Cocaine, Adderall and Ecstasy. Varney shared tips and tricks to recognize if your child is using an illegal substance.

   Varney mentioned another free program offered to our community youth called, “On the Move.” This program targets students in seventh through tenth grades. This program encourages open and honest communication and offers drug testing for the youth. It provides hands-on experiences for visual impairments. This program offers a simulated impaired driving experience using a go cart that would be controlled by a Unite staff member and it helps to show the students how the use of drugs and alcohol can affect the body while operating a vehicle.

   After they fed the children and the parents, everyone headed back to the gymnasium and the children collected their free T-shirts and basketballs. The Project Unite team drew two children's names to receive basketball hoops. Hale briefly told the youth about the Camp Unite that is a free week long leadership/adventure camp which is geared toward middle school aged children. Camp Unite will be offering a Virtual Hope Camp July 27 through July 30 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day. For those that choose to participate, you will receive a camp T-shirt and a box of supporting materials for your chosen camp.

   Project Unite and the Shoot Hoops, Not Drugs program brought a lot of smiles to many youth in our community. Many children lingered after the program concluded, to sport their new T-shirts and shoot hoops with their friends. They had their bellies full and after all of this activity, they surely slept well.

   For more information on Project Unite, go to