Around 25 years ago, a group of local people passionate about Peoria youth, started the Peoria Moonlight Basketball League and GED program. The Moonlight Basketball League got the name because games were played late night. The founders of the program were Steve Shostrom, Founder of the Steamboat Classic; George Jacob, then Peoria Councilman; Phil Lockwood, IPICO Sports; Steve Turner, Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Robert Morris University; Junior Watkins, District Peoria County Board member; Scott Meister, Connor Co.; Matt Abraham, ICC Counselor; and Hedy Elliott-Gardner, Teacher.
Per Scott Meister, “George Jacob and Junior Watkins came up with the idea. These two gentlemen started putting the pieces of the puzzle together. They established a board, recruited coaches and assistant coaches. Phil Lockwood registered all the kids, collected their information and assigned them a number for tryouts. Championship winning coach, Wayne McClain, would participate in the tryout for kids age 18-26. McClain would run them through drills and scrimmages. After tryout, the coaches would get together and choose their players. There were eight teams, each with ten players.
When people ask Meister about the league, he states, “I run into former players all the time. Now their kids are teenagers. I always thought we didn’t do much, but when I talk to the kids, apparently, we must have done something. They would like to see it back for their kids. It makes me think we did a little more than we thought.”
The GED program was optional and free. Even if there was only one young man who wanted to participate in the GED program, a teacher was made available one hour before or after a game for tutoring. Matt Abraham was the original teacher and later Hedy Elliot-Gardner took over the instruction. Today, the GED program continues, now called the Moonlight Coalition for Adult Learning led by Elliott-Gardner, Coordinator. According to the Moonlight Coalition website, “The Moonlight Coalition for Adult Learning was originally established in 1994 to provide organized activities for young members of the community to combat juvenile delinquency and prevent crime. Organized sports like basketball were combined with GED instruction as a way to break down barriers for those who thought formal education wasn’t accessible or ‘cool.”
The original founders of the league are now part of a movement to revive the program in early 2017. They will serve as an advisory board for a new group of like-minded individuals: Terry Burnside, Burnside Brothers Construction and community activist; Charles Nathan, District 150 SRO; Peoria Police Officers Daniel Duncan and Aaron Watkins; Jannise Bush, J.B. Virtual Administrative Services; Ericson Beck, Illinois Central College; and Melvin Murry, Murry’s Custom Autobody.
If you’re interested in playing or sponsoring a team, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about the Moonlight Coalition for Adult Learning, visit their website at https://www.peoriaparks.org/moonlight/.)
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