DECATUR — In the midst of the Decatur Celebration, basketball fans will get the opportunity to see some of central Illinois' top basketball players square off in two exhibition games Saturday at Eisenhower High School during the Back To School Bash.
The first 300 kids attending the event can also take part in a backpack and school supply giveaway.
The event was organized by Eisenhower graduate and Purdue University basketball star Lewis Jackson as a way to give back to the community. He has fond memories of attending similar events as a kid.
"It’s always kind of been one of my goals to come home to do a camp. I wanted to do a back to school bash to basically highlight a lot of high school kids, even some college guys," Jackson said. "(Decatur) is a basketball city and I remember growing up we all liked basketball but the best part about it was being able to get school supplies and backpacks."
Jackson has partnered with several local business partners, including Brit Miller's Leading the Way Foundation to launch the event which he hopes will be an annual tradition.
"We got the 300 bags and we are filling them up so that’s not a problem. We just need 300 kids to come get those backpacks. We’ve got a bunch of sponsors and we’ve got a lot of good support so that’s a great thing," he said. "We've got pencils, pens, notebooks, we’ve got some things for the little kids, pencil cases, we will have those random things. We also have two different barber shops helping and we will randomly put in gift certificates so those people can go get a haircut for free."
Tickets for the event are $5 for adults and children 14 and under are $2.
Jackson intends to use entry fee to do a similar event around Thanksgiving.
"The plan is put some (money) back into this foundation, we want to keep this going annually but we also are talking about doing a Thanksgiving drive so the proceeds will go toward a Thanksgiving event and making it bigger and better next year," he said. "We are going through the Brit Miller Leading the Way Foundation since I don’t have a personal foundation. He’s kind of stepped up to be my partner on this."
Along with a college and pro exhibition game, the centerpiece of the event is a high school skills camp that runs from 3-5 p.m.
"Right now I have 32 kids signed up for the high school camp and I have a lot of my high school teammates who are helping out and they are going to do some skill work with them and we will put them through an NBA combine as the doors are opening," Jackson said. "We will have two games while they are in camp so people can come out early and they can see the talent. We have a lot of talent here in Central Illinois."
Jackson's certain the exhibition games will be very competitive and some players have even pressured him to be placed on a team opposite their former rivals.
"Especially the pro game, I know those guys a little more personally and which guys want to see each other on the court. That game is going to be pretty good," he said. "We’ve got guys that we played against from Champaign, Bloomington, Danville and it’s that old rivalry. Guys have told me, ‘Don’t put me on this team, I want to see how he’s looking right now.’ It’s going to be exciting and everyone has gotten better since high school."
Jackson also said that scheduling the event during the Celebration is an advantage and that people can attend both events.
"I think it will work out. The beauty of it happening during the Celebration and it’s also my 10-year high school anniversary on top of that and so people are coming back for that. I thought about it and so maybe from 3-7 p.m, the sun might be out and people might want to take a break. Once the games are over, the sun will be down and it will be cooling down and you can still enjoy the rides and festivities," he said. "And we are right here on the south side and air conditioned so you can come right over. It will be a big day of events and I tried to balance it so people had enough time to do both things if they wanted to."
Reflecting on 10 years since his days at Eisenhower, Jackson said he has a new role to fill.
"My age group, we are becoming the adults now. I’ve got friends with kids in middle school and now it is up to us to give back to the city. We keep building bonds and we need each other. It’s great that these kids are going to compete against each other but they need each other too," he said. "A lot of us have been through life and adversity and if we can help and give back and try to build to make these guys, they are the next leaders."