Longtime youth program works to keep doors open

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 07, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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For more than a decade, Cynthia Guillory took at-risk students and showed them the path to a college degree.

As director of Team Fort Worth, Guillory used sports to mentor and educate youths, hosted basketball tournaments at community centers citywide and took young athletes to basketball tournaments nationwide.

Some of Guillory’s students who are coaching others said they owe their positions to the sports and off-the-court skills they developed at Team Fort Worth.

“We’ve had so many that have come through our program over the last 20-plus years that we have lost track of a lot of them,” Guillory said. “I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here.”

The sports program is now going through a “rebranding process” after moving into the Bertha Collins Community Center in 2013 and might lose its new home if its financial situation does not improve, Guillory said.

Team Fort Worth has a contract with the city that calls for annual lease payments of $20,000, or $5,000 quarterly, Guillory said. City staff said Team Fort Worth owed the city $13,500 at year’s end.

Team Fort Worth’s most recent available federal income tax return, filed for the 2011 calendar year, said the non-profit collected $81,577 in revenue and spent it all on tournament expenses.

Team Fort Worth carried $801 in assets into 2012, according to its Form 990.

“We just need some more time,” Guillory said.

The city granted Team Fort Worth an extension until Jan. 15 to make its lease payment current, said Nancy Bunton, assistant director of golf and athletics with the city’s Parks and Community Services Department.

“We want Ms. Guillory to succeed, but we’re also entrusted by our citizens to oversee this contract,” Bunton said.

New challenges

For years, Team Fort Worth was a nomadic organization that hosted sporting events at community centers near Interstate 20 and neighborhoods surrounding TCU.

In April, Team Fort Worth moved into the vacant Bertha Collins Community Center, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway, less than a half-mile southeast of I.M. Terrell Elementary School.

The parents of some of the team’s current prospects did not participate at the new location and said the neighborhood is dangerous and a haven for the homeless, Guillory said.

The parents of some of the team’s new prospects in the neighborhood where the nonprofit moved could not afford membership dues or travel to basketball tournaments in different cities such as New York and Las Vegas, Guillory said.

“I look at the fact that a lot of people don’t like change,” she said. “The same thing I did at other establishments, I’ll do here. But it’s a process and it’s a struggle.”

Will Hensley, an assistant basketball coach at University of Northern Colorado, said losing Team Fort Worth would be like losing a close relative. Hensley said he is trying to re-create some of the program attributes that he grew up with in Team Fort Worth.

“She created a family atmosphere,” Hensley said of Guillory. “There was a lot of camaraderie on and off the floor. What made me successful was the off-the-court stuff she taught us, rather than the basketball skills.”

Homeless people who congregated near the center, located off U.S. 287 across from the Butler Place public housing complex, were told they could no longer loiter on the property, said Pastor Harold Kuykendall, Team Fort Worth chaplain.

But the city uses the center as a shelter during inclement weather and sheltered homeless people there last month.

Guillory said she gave the center a top-to-bottom cleaning and replaced parking lot lights at an estimated cost of $7,000 so parents would be comfortable visiting the center with their children. The investment is paying off, Guillory said.

“Slowly, we’ve made the building safer and people are coming back,” Guillory said. “But that’s happening slowly.”

More than sports

City Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, whose district includes the Bertha Collins Recreation Center, said she has been talking to Guillory and city staff about allowing Team Fort Worth more time to make its lease payments current.

“Our goal is to be able to help the youth in the community and not be an impediment, and if we can find a way for them to keep the building, then everyone is winning,” Gray said. “She has brought in kids from all over the county.

“The program incorporates a lot of things youth need to be succesful, but it is wrapped around basketball.”

Plans include expanding the program’s after-school initiatives, mentoring capabilities and launching a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program that will give participants more educational options, Guillory said.

Expanding will require more resources, Guillory said.

“We’re more, and we need to be more, than just about sports,” she said.

Tamiyjah Smith, a senior shooting guard at Bowie High School in Arlington, said she has been playing with Team Fort Worth since she was in second grade.

Smith is reviewing letters from Texas, Illinois and Kentucky universities and is waiting to see which school makes her the best scholarship offer.

“Now that I’m a senior and have more things to do, it’s hard to stay balanced,” Smith said. “But my mindset is really focused on basketball right now.”

Arlington Sam Houston High School Athletic Director Anthony Criss said Guillory exposes students to fundamentals in both basketball and life.

“Team Fort Worth keeps a lot of kids from getting into gang life and keeps a lot of them from straying into negative influences,” Criss said. “I’ve seen it turn kids without a desire to do better into kids who are ready to excel.”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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