Urban Youth Inc. is an event owner, operating youth basketball tournaments for both boys and girls (grades 2 to 12) in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware since 1997. I have tournaments for girls and boys in all age groups. The organization has the stated mission of providing recreational and educational activities for youth, to help build self-esteem and provide a safe haven develop basketball skills in a structured environment, and to provide positive activities for our youth to keep them off the streets.
Sports Destination Management: It sounds like Urban Youth has a very ambitious and altruistic mission.
Mark Sills: We do. We offer not just clinics but leagues for boys and girls. We also help out children on an as-needed basis. For example, if a kid needs help with tuition money in order to stay in school, or money for schoolbooks, we can do that. We have also sponsored kids so that they can go to basketball camps, and we have paid fees and travel expenses to send teams to tournaments abroad or out west. We also mentor kids and work with them to get scholarships so they can continue their education.
SDM: Your work is primarily with groups in the tri-state area but where else have you offered tournaments?
Sills: We have gone to a variety of locations – not just local tournaments but those down south, out west, even in Canada. Some of the states we’ve hosted tournaments in are Alabama, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland – and plenty of others.
SDM: How many teams do tournaments draw?
Sills: Each tournament is different, and each has an identity of its own. Some draw 30 teams, 70 teams, 120 teams. It varies.
SDM: What do you look for in a tournament facility and city?
Sills: In a facility, we need something that has multiple basketball courts so that we can have several games going on at once, and so that we can finish the tournament in a timely fashion. We also look for a very safe, nurturing environment, and in one where it is feasible that kids of every race, color and creed will feel comfortable. We like facilities that are fairly new and modern, with all the conveniences. When we’re looking at cities, we want something a lot of people can get to easily.
SDM: Do you see a big bounce back in enrollment since quarantine ended?
Sills: Yes, there’s definitely pent-up demand. Most of the kids have been penned up and restricted and protected so I think basketball is on its way to making another comeback.
SDM: Are you seeing a demand for 3x3 at all?
Sills: I think there is some interest but at our level, 5x5 is more popular. The 3x3 format is of more interest to older players.
SDM: Do you see more girls or more boys enrolling in tournaments?
Sills: I think it’s divided right down the middle.
SDM: You operate tournaments for kids through the 12th grade; some event owners have told us they see a little bit of a drop-off once kids are old enough to play on high school teams. Are you seeing that as well?
Sills: Yes – I get more kids in the age group for 9th grade and under. Once you get old enough to play on a high school team, a lot of kids will do that, plus they have more of a social life and might have a part-time job as well.
SDM: Do you have college coaches interested in your tournaments?
Sills: Yes, we do. We see college coaches from Division I schools all the way down to junior colleges.
SDM: Do you offer showcases or camps?
Sills: I have put on showcases in the past. I’ve never done a camp but I’d love to do one in the future that Urban Youth Inc. could sponsor.
SDM: If destinations would like to host Urban Youth events, how do they get in touch with you?
SDM: It sounds like you’re providing a very valuable opportunity with Urban Youth.
Sills: This organization is always consistent in its mission. We are always available and interested in putting on tournaments to keep kids off the street and out of harm’s way. We also see this as giving them the chance to meet kids from other states, other regions – even other countries – and to meet coaches and open up other avenues and opportunities.