The Midnight Basketball League took it to the hoop last night as the Chicago All-Stars defeated the Prince George's County All-Stars, 84-83, in the league's first national championship game at Novak Field House in Largo.
They squared off in the name of defeating two of the country's most formidable opponents: drug abuse and unemployment.
During the summer months the Midnight Basketball League, founded in 1986 by G. Van Standifer of Glenarden, encourages young adults to stay off the streets by taking to the court.
Games are played three nights a week, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., keeping kids away from the temptations of crime and giving them a productive outlet for their energy.
MBL participants, ages 17 to 21, must attend mandatory workshops on drug counseling and career planning in addition to practice. If they don't attend, they don't play.
The counseling "helps me out a lot," said Michael Stewart, 20, of the P.G. team. "A lot of things I didn't know at first, I know now."
Stewart plans to attend Prince George's Community College in the spring.
"I like to focus attention on the targets of this program, the dropouts, the jobless," Standifer said. "We try to build a bridge between joblessness and marketable skills."
Although the league lacks the resources to keep track of individuals, Standifer said he thinks the program is working.
In fact, players are so serious about the game that the leagues had to find coaches who could guide them.
Saundra Harris, director of resident organizations for the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), said that the coaches "give the players a sense of discipline, and show them how they can transform discipline from the court into the development of life skills.
" . . . If you can come to practice on time, and it's mandatory for you to be at the games on time, then you can also go to a job. I think that's what we are trying to get at."
Fifty cities are currently developing leagues and representatives from Miami, Detroit, Atlanta and Washington attended.