Hickey kids have a prayer, thanks to visit

Sandra McKee

September 13, 1990|By Sandra McKee

DEMETRIUS sat at the end of the third row of bleachers in the gym at the Charles Hickey School for Juveniles yesterday afternoon. His teammates sat around him. All of them had just finished a best-of-three mini-basketball tournament with members of Sportspower Ministries. They had lost, but no one seemed to care about that.

They also had listened to Detroit Tigers pitcher Frank Tanana talk about his faith in God and the love that fills his heart.

"Frank Tanana wanted to teach us about God," said Anthony, a few seats away from Demetrius. "They felt, maybe we'd get more into it, if we saw them and heard them."

Torain said he felt "special" because the Sportspower group had come to Hickey School, but it was Demetrius who expressed the most. Sitting in the third row, he held up his hand to talk.

"To me," he said, "I felt it was good they came here and showed they cared. It makes a person feel good inside to know someone outside cares. I've been here a long time."

Demetrius is 15 years old. He has been in and out of trouble since 1981, and he has been at the Hickey School for 2 1/2 years. Until recently, he was in the most secure part of the school, on "the other side" of the 12-foot steel fence that is topped by rolled barbed wire. He said he may be released next month.

The charge and the conviction that brought him here was attempted murder.

"I listened to what they said to us," Demetrius said. "I go to church and I read my Bible."

There are 350 teen-agers here between the ages of 14 and 18. Until yesterday afternoon, a recreational activity like the one put on by Sportspower Ministries was rare in the relaxed security area and nonexistent behind the wire fence in the part of the school known as "The Youth Correctional Facility."

It was also a rare cooperative effort for the state-operated juvenile correctional system because, at the request of Hickey recreation director Jim Lewis, the Thomas O'Farrell Center in Sykesville and the Maryland Youth Residential Center also participated.

"I'm about providing kids with opportunities to change their lives," said Paul Donnelly, the school's supervisor who has been on the job for just eight weeks. "Jim thought inviting the other institutions would be good and I agreed.

"I'm for any activity that can allow these kids to stop focusing on walls and fences -- real or imagined. The real walls are what our institution is about, the others are created by their behavior and if this can pull them out for just a brief instance, it's worthwhile."

That is certainly part of the ideal behind the Sportspower program, put together by Bill Alexson, chaplain of the Boston Celtics.

"I'm reaching the famous athlete and in turn influencing young people who look up to them," said Alexson, who has been assisted by the likes of NBA stars Larry Bird, Mark Jackson and Alex English, to name a few. "We have fun playing a game and these kids gain a new perspective about life, themselves and who God is. Maybe we rescue some of their lives."

Tanana, who has worked with other religious organizations, had never appeared with the Sportspower group. He said he enjoyed yesterday's outing in Parkville.

"People need to hear the good news," he said. "I like to think we gave them some hope, that they can change their lives, that they can be rid of selfishness, bitterness, the addiction to sex, drugs and alcohol and be rid of the pain that goes with it."

Sitting in the maximum secured gym, Brian, 18, never took his eyes from the Sportspower group.

"I believe what they're saying to us," said Brian, at Hickey for six months following a conviction for selling drugs. "My mother always tried to get me to read the Bible, but I never wanted to. Since I've been in here, I've been reading it. I've learned a lot while I've been in here."


Not too far away, in Landover, the Bullets also were trying to get a message across yesterday. At the Capital Centre, 15,000 laughing, screaming fifth and sixth graders from Prince George's County attended the largest rally to fight illiteracy in the country.

Those children heard Bullets forward Tom Hammonds, who this summer earned his degree in business management from Georgia Tech, speak on the importance of education. They also heard All-Star forward Bernard King talk of the joys of reading.

"I grew up in Brooklyn and my family didn't travel," said King. "But I spent hours in the city library and those books took me to faraway places. I think reading is the foundation for everything you do in life -- communications, knowing who you are -- all of it is wrapped up in reading."

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