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updated: 9/4/2013 7:13 AM

Basketball helps keep Rockford kids from crime

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By Alex Gary, Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD -- Gerry Ford has to love kids because he surrounds himself with them all the time.

Ford runs the out-of-school suspension program for Northwest Community Center during the school year and its youth summer camps.

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On many summer weekends, Ford is traveling with even more kids, coaching an age 15-and-under AAU basketball team.

"I started coaching basketball when my oldest son was 5. He's 20 now. I'm always running into guys I used to coach. I'll be at Walmart and someone will want to come up and talk basketball.

"My wife rolls her eyes" -- he married Jennifer in 2002. "She's a football fan. She'll say `Doesn't anyone want to talk football?"'

Taking teams to tournaments at least seven times in the summer and six or seven the rest of the year -- and raising the money to pay for those trips -- is a hectic schedule for a family with four children.

"I try to make them family events," Ford said. He juggles his schedule because the tournaments aren't just important to build the skills of the players -- they give many of the kids a rare chance to see places outside Rockford.

"I've had kids from Stockton, Winnebago, Belvidere, but most of the kids who play for me are from Rockford and some don't have much money. With the crime rate, I like to take my kids on the road so I know they are safe.

"I want them to get out and see places like the Mall of America (in Minnesota) because it seems like, whenever we get back, something has happened to one of their friends or family."

Ford said people who believe sports are overemphasized don't understand that for some, playing basketball is one of the few safe outlets in their lives.

"Just opening the gym at night and letting the kids shoot around is a big thing," he said. "That means they are (at Northwest Community Center) instead of outside during `crime time.' That's 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., when a lot of the bad things happen."

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