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Game Changers program returns to Lockport Friday

LOCKPORT – The Game Changers program, which offers kids a chance to play basketball and learn life skills, will begin its second summer in Lockport Friday night.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said at a news conference Monday that last year’s program produced “a noticeable decrease in crime among juveniles.”

She had no precise figures, but Police Chief Michael F. Niethe said the statement was based on the number of juvenile arrests and crimes in which juveniles were suspects.

The news conference was held in the Lockport High School gymnasium, where the program will be held 6-9 p.m. Friday through Aug. 19.

The coordinator, Daemen College men’s basketball coach Mike McDonald, said the program will include college and former pro athletes as volunteer speakers, but the lineup isn’t finalized.

“We’re going to try and keep the kids off the streets and give them something to do,” McDonald said. “The lure to get them in here is basketball.”

Besides coaching from pro and college athletes, “We have teachers from Western New York high schools come in and work with the kids,” McDonald said. “An hour is spent on basketball, and an hour is spent in a classroom setting where we’re working on such things as conflict resolution, how to deal with people - even some varied things such as etiquette, how to address people, how to act when you’re in a social setting.

The program is open to boys and girls ages 8 to 18. Last summer, the average attendance was about 85, but McCaffrey said they’re shooting for up to 125 this year.

Police Capt. Douglas E. Haak said sign-up forms were distributed in Lockport schools before the school year ended. Children can also be registered by calling the Police Department at 433-7700 or by visiting the Lockport Police Facebook page.

Kids also may sign up in person Friday if they bring a parent with them. Haak said kids may join after the first week, too.

McDonald said Game Changers operated in Niagara Falls and Buffalo in recent years but those cities are now operating similar programs of their own.

“Hopefully, we get a program going, and we let it go,” the coach said.

Others attending the news conference included U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul and Wilbert Plummer, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in New York State.