Video games, dancing and the Belk Bowl: How Conway is giving kids more opportunities

Ricky Sapp plays ball during CORE program youth night

Ricky Sapp, who played football for Clemson and then for the New York Jets and Houston Texans, visits with Conway kids on Jan. 5, 2019 during a City of Conway CORE program "youth night."
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Ricky Sapp, who played football for Clemson and then for the New York Jets and Houston Texans, visits with Conway kids on Jan. 5, 2019 during a City of Conway CORE program "youth night."

Dec. 29 was not a good day for University of South Carolina football fans. The Gamecocks lost to Virginia, 28-0, at the Belk Bowl in Uptown Charlotte. As much as USC fans may want to forget the game, for about 40 kids from Conway, it will be a memory they’ll never forget.

The kids were on the first trip of a new initiative called CORE, run by the Conway Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department. The CORE program is an initiative run by the recreation department in hopes of giving local kids a chance to have a safe learning environment not far from home.

“This will be one of those things they’ll remember forever,” Conway City Manager Adam Emrick said. He originally was skeptical when the program was pitched to him but said its success has been a pleasant surprise with over 100 kids enrolled in the program in its first month of existence.

The program is only a few weeks old, but director Addison Jarrell said the enrollments keep coming in as news of the program spreads.

“Giving those kids something constructive and have a safe environment is really important,” Jarrell said. “Those kids could be doing things that are not good.”

An advertisement for the CORE program in the Conway Recreation Center. Tyler Fleming

The trip to the Belk Bowl is just one of the live games in the coming months. While not every kid will get to attend a game, some of the future events include seeing USC’s men’s and women’s basketball teams play in Columbia, watching the UNC Tar Heels men’s basketball team play a conference game against Louisville and a trip back to Charlotte to watch the Hornets play.

Motivational speakers come in for weekly “youth nights” so kids can learn and play sports. One past speaker, Ricky Sapp, played football for Clemson and then for the New York Jets and Houston Texans.

“To me, it’s the best thing since sliced bread,” Conway City Council member Tom Anderson said during a workshop Monday.

And while the space used for CORE is Conway owned, it is funded by a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help kids find new ways to spend their free time. The program doesn’t cost local taxpayers money, and Jarrell said the sports teams have worked with him to make the tickets to the games free for the kids.

“It’s a great way to keep the kids on the straight and narrow,” Emrick said.

Part of the reason the program goes to college sports games is to get kids onto a university campus. Jarrell hopes the events give the kids a glimpse into college life and what they can achieve.

“We want to let kids know there is more beyond high school,” he said. “They get to have a little bit of the college experience at these games.”

Anderson said a similar program through a church was how he learned about college sports in a family that didn’t keep up with them. But the CORE program doesn’t just hope to teach kids about sports, it hopes to include kids who may not be interested in athletics.

Other events included a Madden ‘19 video game tournament, which Jarrell said did so well they’re having to expand the event for when they do a NBA 2K tournament. In addition, there is a hip-hop dance night and other unique ways of getting kids moving, like laser tag.

“We have a huge population that loves playing video games.” he said. “To do something beyond sports is something we should be doing anyways.”

Applications to join the program can be picked up at the Conway Recreation Center. The out-of-town events are typically on the weekend and volunteers are needed.

For Jarrell, this is something he said he wished he had as a kid. He chaperones the events with a group of other volunteers. While it makes for a lot of late nights and weekends traveling, he said the impact is worth it.

“I knew going into my profession I would be working a lot of nights and weekends,” he said. “The positive I get to see with these kids, it makes it worth it.”

Development and Horry County reporter Tyler Fleming joined The Sun News in May of 2018. He covers other stuff too, like reporting on beer, bears, breaking news and Coastal Carolina University. He graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 and was the 2017-18 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. He has won (and lost) several college journalism awards.