KC Ghost Riders provides basketball and a positive outlet for kids
By Tyler Schneider Photos courtesy Kelvin Harrison
Five years ago, Kelvin and Amanda Harrison were at a youth basketball event when they spotted a child who wasn’t able to cover their participation fees. Together, the pair made a decision that has since blossomed into a bastion of hope for young people in lower-income portions of south Kansas City communities like Grandview, Belton and Raytown.
“I was coaching at [the community center] and one day a kid came in. He didn’t have money to play. We came out of our pockets so he could play on the team,” Harrison, 43, and father of five, said.
That moment would represent the spiritual launch of a program known as the KC Ghost Riders, a product of Harrison’s desire to bring structure and a source of leadership for kids who may need it most. Over the years, Kelvin and Amanda Harrison have spared no efforts in elevating their project in spite of the many difficulties they have faced in securing additional volunteers and funding from scratch.
“For you to have a team, you’ve got to find a gym, you’ve got to do a lot to keep everything going smoothly for the kids,” Harrison said. “You’ve got uniforms, entry fees, there’s a lot to it.”
The Harrisons have primarily done this heavy lifting between just the two of them. But last year, Chris Perez, 37, volunteered as an assistant coach. This created two teams of high school aged boys: the Black Team and Red Team.
In June, a batch of brand new uniforms featuring a redesigned team logo were purchased due to a donation by Reddy Challa, owner of the Grandview Corner convenience store.
The Ghost Riders play as a part of the Agape Hoops League, a local organization that organizes tournaments and allocates practice space for member teams. Agape tournaments will typically ask for an entry fee of $500 for a team to play up to eight games. There are three competition seasons in the spring, summer and winter — though Harrison said a decision on the status of the 2020 Winter Season won’t be known for about two weeks.
While practices are currently stalled as that announcement nears, Harrison is still actively looking towards the future. His ambition is to have six different teams next year, with half of them being girls middle school and high school level teams.
“We’re like a family here, it’s not just an organization. The kids can come talk to me anytime they want,” Harrison said.
Often, those talks extend far past the materialistic realm of the hardwood court. Himself the product of a single mother in an inner-city upbringing, Harrison understands the vital role that organized sports can play — both as a distraction from home life as well as in cultivating a sense work ethic and ambition for the future.
“When you grow up poor, you really have nothing but sports. You follow the NBA, you see them making plays, taking care of their mother, father, their grandma. You have the chance to be a billionaire,” Harrison said.
That motivation is important, he said, but not as important as what kids could take away from being a part of an organized, supportive collective with their peers.
“It’s my job to teach the values of life. You encourage them to stay out of trouble, keep good sportsmanship, be kind to people on and off the court,” Harrison said. “I tell them, ‘try your best, but always have something (other than sports) to fall back on’.”
Harrison tries to keep conversation on the game as often as possible, but this is often not the case. He makes an effort to not pry into the often troubled personal lives of his athletes, but also finds himself serving as a listener as well as a coach and role model.
“You would be surprised at the personal conversations, some of the stories I’ve heard from kids that would break anybody down. It bothers you at night, knowing that they’re hurting, maybe facing abuse at home or that their parents are struggling to put food on the table.”
This, at the root of it, is why the Harrisons and Perez have taken it upon themselves to help guide young people through the simple, yet formative escape from regular life that is shooting a ball through a net.
“It doesn’t deter me or nothing, though,” Harrison said of facing both the structural and personal obstacles involved with keeping the Ghost Riders active. “Just to see a kid smile, that’s a lot for me. That always makes it worth everything you do.”