WHEELING -A year ago Kenny Walker was taking a stroll down Main Street when he noticed a group of kids playing basketball on the courts in North Wheeling.
Intrigued, he decided to go over.
''I was just wandering around and I saw people playing basketball so I came over,'' the 13-year-old recalled. ''I just started playing.''
Photo by Tony Viola
Children compete at the North Wheeling Basketball Camp.
What Walker stumbled into was the North Wheeling Youth Basketball Camp and its director Joe Touvell.
According to Touvell, Walker's story is a pretty common one.
''A lot of these kids talk to each other on Facebook and whatnot, so word of mouth is our biggest resource in terms of getting the word out,'' he said.
It doesn't seem to bother Touvell much and since the camp is free for kids 6-17 years of age, he's not looking for a check from Mom or Dad when new kids wander onto the court.
''First year we started with 15 kids,'' Touvell noted. ''Now we're at 96 in six years. That's pretty good.''
What also is pretty good is the fact Touvell and the rest of the staff feed and hydrate all kids in attendance, which grows daily from 77 kids on Monday to 96 on Tuesday.
The camp also draws speakers, such as Wheeling Park boys' basketball coach Michael Jebbia and Wheeling native and St. Vincent's College men's basketball coach D.P. Harris, to come and talk to the kids about an array of topics both on and off the court.
''We have different speakers every day that come down and talk to the kids about basketball, staying in school, make sure they are doing the right thing ... stretching, exercise, just things of that nature,'' Touvell said.
Touvell, along with Phil McLaughlin and Cory Doty, put on the week-long camp and want nothing in return except to see kids having fun on the basketball court.
''All the staff just donates their time and energy all week long,'' Touvell, a self-employed architect and the head coach of West Virginia Northern's men's basketball program said. ''Basically, I just took a week out of my vacation to come down here and spend time with the kids. We all love it. The staff enjoys it. We get as much fun out of it as the kids do.
''It's been going great. We don't ask guys for money, we just ask for time. If you can give some time to these kids, that makes a big difference. That's pretty much the gist of what we're doing.''
The camp runs from 3-6:30 p.m. with a men's division playing games after.
In the event of rain, the camp moves to the Nelson Jordan Center.
Championship games are played Saturday followed by a pool party at Grand Vue Park where every kid will receive a trophy.
The kids also get to keep their camp jersey and a boy's and girl's MVP award along with a Hustle award will be given out on Saturday.
''It's become a community event. Parent's come and chip in. For the pool party, they donate a lot of food. DiCarlo's gives us pizza. It all works out.''