- Associated Press - Sunday, August 27, 2017

PICAYUNE, Miss. (AP) - A simple acronym and a weekly game of pickup basketball at the Picayune Junior High gym has begun to turn around the lives of Pearl River County teens.

H.O.O.P.S., or Helping Overcome Obstacles While Pursuing Success, is a program through Pearl River County Youth Court and Judge Richelle Lumpkin that aims to intervene in the lives of juveniles who are involved in the legal system.

Lumpkin teamed up with local law enforcement, firefighters and the basketball coaching staff at Picayune Memorial High School to organize a weekly program for boys ages 13 through 17 to provide them with a positive experience.

“You never know what bell might ring and put them on the straight and narrow,” Lumpkin said.

As one of the most popular sports in the county, and Lumpkin’s personal favorite, basketball fit with her goal of bringing local youth and authority figures together to form of a mentorship.

Beyond the sweaty fa├žade and the pizza-filled feasts afterward, participants are building relationships that extend beyond the court.

Lumpkin said she’s already seen a difference in the teenagers who participate in the program, in addition to the adults working with them.

“They’ve seen the good it’s done; kids are starting to approach them when they’re on patrol,” Lumpkin said.

It’s a positive experience and opens them up to new relationships and a new perspective of the world, she said.

“These are good kids; some made bad decisions, but that doesn’t make them bad kids,” PMHS Basketball Coach Kelton Thompson said.

Before each practice, the group gathers in the center of the court. Sometimes a coach will speak for five minutes, sometimes 45; but the message is always the same, “We’ve all been where you are,” Thompson said.

Relating to them on a platform outside of the courtroom or during an emergency situation can help bridge that gap between a child and a police officer or firefighter who carries a lot of authority, he said.

Each speaker will talk about where they were and were they have gone, Lumpkin said.

“Everyone makes mistakes, but it doesn’t have to define you,” she said.

But most of the time on the basketball court, the players are just cutting up, laughing alongside one another, Thompson said.

And they are just that, players, not student, not adults, not authority figures, just players.

Lumpkin said she’s grateful for the support the community has shown the program, including the officers, deputies, firefighters and coaches who made the time each week to participate, but also to local businesses and community members like Sheriff David Allison, Kiwanis Club of Picayune, Knights of Columbus, Pearl River County Deputies Association and many more.

“People do care about these kids,” she said.

The program is open to the public. Any teenager can benefit from beginning a relationship with these officials, no matter their circumstances, Lumpkin said.

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