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Youth Challenge Academy eyes sixth title
Airing it out: Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy has won five out of nine YCA basketball invitational titles. The group heads to Maryland after Thanksgiving looking for win number six. Pictured (not in order) are: Antuane Avery (22), Micah Draper (3), Jeremy Johnson (5), Horatio Heard (32), Nelson Travion (21), Ezekical Crockett (13), Milfrank Cedano (23), Keith Ash (44), Michael Thomas (15), Siddig Muhammad (1), E.J. Motley (11), Zhivago Jones (10), Ibrahim Olokaodano (35) and head coach Ernie Walthour Sr. and assistant coach Anthony McDaniels - photo by By Patty Leon / Coastal Courier
Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy will head to Maryland after the Thanksgiving break for another shot at a basket championship ring during the annual Youth Challenge Invitational Basketball Tournament.
“We’ve won five championship titles in the last nine tournaments,” head coach Ernie Walthour Sr. said. “There is a ring for every finger on one hand and now we are looking at the other hand to fill.”
The tournament, in which teams from different Youth Challenge programs throughout the United States compete, will be hosted this year in Maryland. Last year’s Fort Stewart’s Youth Challenge team won the title in Chicago.
“The group will go home today to spend Thanksgiving with their family and come back on Sunday,” Walthour said. “On Nov. 26, we hit the road and get down to business.”
For these young men, business means two specific goals.
“I wanted to accomplish two things,” team captain Keith Ash said. “One is to get my GED and the other is to bring home another championship.”
Ash completed his first goal of attaining his GED and now has his mind set on what he and his teammates need to do to accomplish their second goal.
“We want another victory,” Ash said. “I tell the team to keep going, even if we get down just keep going because you can come back. It doesn’t matter who we may face when we are there. We need to do our best to win regardless of who is the lead scorer,” he said.
Walthour chose Ash as his team captain based on his leadership qualities.
“To be a team captain, you must show leadership and he does so,” Walthour said. “I depend on him to keep the other players organized   and ready.”
Travion Nelson is another cadet who is anxious to hit the courts in Maryland.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was 7 years old,” he said. “I want to go out there and play the best we can to bring home the title.”
Nelson said the academy helped him progress toward his GED and offers a great learning environment.
“I learn a lot from the cadre, other cadets and the administrators of the program,” he said. Coach Walthour has taught me a lot about the game. It’s a positive thing.”
Walthour hopes to bring back the title as a tribute to the staff and personnel of the Fort Stewart Youth Challenge Academy.
“Their hard work and support has been great and I’ve been involved with them for the last 10 years,” Walthour said. “The system they have in place is really organized, gets them away from the streets and makes them have more discipline. It helps to move them in the right direction.”
The academy is part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program. Its mission is to intervene and reclaim the lives of at-risk youth to produce program graduates with the value, skills, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as adults.
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