CAMDEN, NJ—Philadelphia 76ers mascot Franklin burst through the backdoor of the gymnasium at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. He sprinted across the gym, made a hard right at the end line, high-stepped it to center court and then ran along the bleachers, high-fiving kids ready to play some basketball.
The over 300 screaming Camden children from ages 10 to 14 in the Kroc Center gym would do more than just play basketball on Monday. They would also learning about proper nutrition and stretching, along with earning some free gear at the fourth annual Camden Basketball Clinic tip-off event.
The annual clinic is hosted by the Philadelphia 76ers and Virtua and over three days, it will serve almost 1,000 area-children from more than 30 different youth organizations in the greater Philadelphia region. Sixers President Chris Heck said the NBA franchise came up with the idea for the clinic collectively with Virtua when it made the decision to move to Camden four years ago.
“It was in that first conversation,” said Heck. “If we were gonna venture and move across the bridge to Camden, we better get into the communities right from the start … it was how can we actually help the kids in Camden from day one, and this is the result only four years later.”
Heck added that the camp has been to capacity each year, and after this week will have served almost 4,00 children over its history.
Mayor Frank Moran was also in attendance on Monday morning, and said that when organizations like the Philadelphia 76ers and Virtua give back to the community, “it means the world.”
“By joining this, [the children] learn good health habits, tips and that it's not about staying and video game,” Moran, who calls the campers Camden Ambassadors, said. “As youngsters, they’ll go back and tell their parents and their siblings about what they did today and how well they feel.”
Virtua’s Chief Medical Officer Tarun Kapoor said for today’s youth, it’s really easy for them to get caught in the trappings of the modern-day lifestyle, like sitting on the couch and playing video games.
“There’s instant demand television, instant demand video, instant demand chatting. Those are wonderful tools to have, but only if you have the right fundamentals,” Kapoor said. “And that is the ability to communicate with your peers, to express yourself, to be able to have activity … that’s so crucial.”
In addition to learning how to pass, dribble and shoot a basketball, along with playing with Franklin himself, all children in attendance received a reversible Sixers jersey, Virtua drawstring bags and Virtua first-aid kits, along with a free lunch. However, for Heck, the best part of the day is at the end when the campers are treated to one more free gift — a new pair of Nike shoes.
“There’s nothing like getting a fancy pair of Nike shoes in an orange box for free,” Heck said. “It’s the coolest moment of the week.”