Arkansas Heat and West Memphis Police support each other on the court

Arkansas Heat and West Memphis Police support each other on the court

Local AAU basketball and local law enforcement raised money and awareness at the Boys and Girls Club

West Memphis’ finest and coaches from the Arkansas Heat, an AAU boys and girls basketball program based out of Crittenden County, took to the court this past weekend in a fundraising game, financial helping the Heat teams and overall helping the city by spreading the “Stop the Violence” campaign.

The anti-violence message is, of course, a thread that can’t be spread too often, but the fundraiser also helped the Heat as the program prepares to send three teams to Lake Charles, Louisiana for the Future Stars Tournament.

Prior to the West Memphis Police vs. Heat Coaches game, the Heat players welcomed an AAU team from Jonesboro for a friendly scrimmage as a pre-event game.

Once it was the adults turn, the Heat coaches, led by program director Dee Weatherspoon, blew past the West Memphis Police, defeating the law enforcement squad 75-52.

The event started as the brain child of Weatherspoon, who reached out to his former classmate and 2009 West Memphis High School graduate Tarvin Gaines.

Gaines, who played professional basketball overseas for four years, joined the West Memphis Police Department about eight months ago and rallied up some troops to compete in the friendly contest.

Gains says he enjoyed reuniting with Weatherspoon as the two high school friends continue to support each other years after graduation.

“It was a good feeling, man,” Gaines said. “I really like what he has going on with the AAU team and that he’s trying to do something with the community and bring people together. It was a great feeling to see people come out and support without any controversy, just to enjoy the game and have a good time. It felt good seeing some of my old classmates and seeing some of my old friends as well. It’s always a good feeling when you come from the same small city and everybody shows everybody love and tries to help support each other in what they’re trying to accomplish.”

Without Gaines 6-foot-6 frame on the court, however, the West Memphis Police struggled to stop a fast-paced Heat attack.

Though, the intent of the “Stop the Violence” game was never to focus on winning or losing, according to Weatherspoon.

“Lately, there’s been a lot of violence in the city and it’s been at an all-time high,” Weatherspoon said.

“That’s one of the things that’s been big on me, the violence and the young people. So, we kind of linked those two things together, spreading the ‘Stop the Violence’ message with benefiting our last trip for the summer before school begins. It was perfect timing.”

Weatherspoon says the attendance was beyond what he expected and that, along with the financial support of the community, his team also walked away from the game with a newfound relationship with West Memphis Police Department.

“I appreciate them for coming out because they didn’t have to do it while they were off duty,” Weatherspoon said. “I actually had one of them tell me that, whenever we have something going on, he’s just one call away, no matter what time of day it is. So, we kind of got to build a relationship that we didn’t have before with the police. So, I really appreciate them coming out and helping us build something successful.”

Weatherspoon also extended his gratitude to Darin McCollum, Tim Espinoza and the West Memphis Boys and Girls Club for allowing the police and the Heat to cohost the event at their facilities and for allowing the Heat to use their court to practice throughout the AAU season.

Likewise, Gaines expressed his appreciation for the West Memphis Boys and Girls Club and all the activities they offer to give children options other than crime, a problem Gaines believes is affecting Crittenden County youth at a rapid rate.

“These young kids need an outlet to stay off the street and basketball can be that,” Gaines said.

“West Memphis is getting kind of rough with the younger generation and all its violence. I think we just need a good outlet like the Boys and Girls Club so they can get their mind off of what’s going on around them. If anybody can take time to mentor these kids and give them a little guidance and show them some attention and put them on the right path, I think it will help them succeed instead of succumbing to all this violence.”

The AAU season for the Heat winds up with the program’s most extensive travel as the 7th grade and 8th grade boy’s teams accompany the high school girls team on an almost eight hour drive to Lake Charles, Louisiana for the programs final tournament of the summer.

The Future Stars tournament takes place August 11-13, but the Heat players and coaches plan on arriving a day early to enjoy some time together off the court.

“We’re really excited,” Weatherspoon said.

“Everybody’s excited.

Some of the parents took off to go on the trip. It’s all the kids have been talking about. We’re going to go down there and have a good time and play some basketball.”

By Collins Peeples