How Basketball is Turning Chicago Boys into Men
By Vee L. Harrison
Kris Harris, 31 years-old, has cleverly found a way to keep young men off the street and in tune with a positive plan for their futures. His answer is basketball, but it isn’t just the game that he is looking to help save some of Chicago’s brightest young men. It’s the positive impact on young people that he’s looking to achieve, not just on the scoreboard, but in real life. Harris has created a way to use the game of basketball to create a pathway for young men who would otherwise end up finding themselves in trouble, incarcerated, or worst case scenario, in the grave.
Harris is the owner of Splash Athletics, LLC. Currently, he’s coaching nearly eighty young men in basketball. In addition to coaching for his own business, he also is a coach at DePaul College Prep High School. He recently started a basketball camp for the summer, and his first day of camp, he says, was a success.
“This is an experience for young guys from different neighborhoods to meet and get to know one another,” said Harris. “That’s important for kids who may never have the opportunities to travel outside of their own neighborhoods.”
Harris recalls growing up in Bellwood, a Northwestern suburb outside of the city. He attended high school at Proviso West in Hillside, until his senior year where he then transferred to Westinghouse on Chicago’s West Side.
After attending UIC as one of the university’s top basketball players, he found himself in a spot of trouble. After an incarceration that he thought may detour his life goals, he did what had to do to turn a negative into a positive. Just by putting in the work, he built his own business from the ground up.
“I’m standing here today to tell you that I may have experienced some bad things in my life, but I’m running a business now,” said Harris.
Harris says that it’s just perseverance, not giving up. He tells his players that they can do anything they put their minds to, if they work hard and carry themselves the right way.
“I had a lot of people tell me that since my trouble, it would be hard for me to get a job, hard for me to do this and that. If you believe in yourself and you know who you are and you’re capable, it’s not hard. Chase your dreams, I never gave up. I had ten kids when I started, and I started off training. I’m standing here with eighty kids in my program. Just because you have obstacles, don’t mean you can’t do it.”
Splash Athletics wants to teach young male athletes the importance of education and hard work. Harris says he challenges his players to think beyond the moment, beyond playing basketball.
Basketball is an American pastime, but in certain neighborhoods it can be a saving grace for young people experiencing issues at home, at school, and in their communities. In a lot of cases, these same young people are often from one-parent homes, where the cost of basketball camps and traveling to games just isn’t affordable for their families. However, Splash Athletics has come up with a solution to that, too.
“We do all we can to help these kids,” said Harris. “We give rides, we offer scholarships and help get them into good schools. This is more than just basketball. We are working on turning these young players into men and bettering their lives.”
Just a few weeks ago, one of Splash Athletics players from Oak Park just signed with Brown University. It’s results like this that shows the true work behind the vision.
“Who ever thought his future could be so bright,” said Harris. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to make an impact.”
Harris says that basketball helps his players stay motivated at home and school, and supports their growth, mentally and physically, on and off the court. Although his program is on the Northside, he makes sure he includes players from all parts of the city. He and his team work directly with local families to register and participate in his year-around basketball camps. That’s important to Harris, because he realizes that most of the players from low-income neighborhoods deserve the chance, just like he did.
“I just try to get them to see a different outlook on life. Most of their life they have a chance to get a better education. That’s why I’m key on the Northside. I happen to be the only African-American coach at a majority white school. They’ve never had an African American coach at DePaul. You can’t win at a high level without African-American kids,” said Harris.
Harris hopes to one day be able to mentor people in jails to stay motivated and believe in brighter futures. He has a strong desire to help people realize that just because life comes with challenges, doesn’t mean a person can’t overcome those same challenges and create a positive impact for others. Harris is a living witness to this and continues to work hard with his players to help them realize that there is so much more to life than the negative encounters they may experience.
“What else you can do when the ball stops bouncing? What else can you do to impact life? You’re not going to be able to play forever. Have a plan B so that you can get a good job anywhere and live a successful life.”