Mark Sevco, president of UPMC Hospitals, will return to Lebanon County this August to coach the first Joseph P. Sevco Jr. basketball camp.

Sevco’s cousin, Scott Laicha, and high school friend Veronica Fick, who also spent a large part of their childhoods on the South Sixth Street playground, will join him.

“We had rebuilt the courts – state-of-the-art basketball courts – that were part of the vision to create a safe place for youth to play basketball and hang out,” Sevco said.

Since the court’s groundbreaking last October, he added, “we were able to raise additional monies. I contributed $20,000 myself through this. With the extra money that we had, we wanted to start a basketball camp once a year.”

A recent basketball tournament at the South Sixth Street playground courts. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

Prior to the renovation of the basketball courts, the South Sixth Street playground did not have a place to hold a basketball camp or tournament due to the layout of the preexisting courts.

“We run camp on the other side of the street for the kids in the summer,” Sharon Zook, president of the South Sixth Street playground association, said. “We’ve been running those camps but we don’t have anything that is structured in sports. So this is going to be the first time that we have a basketball camp.”

Youth at the South Sixth Street playground’s summer camp. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

On Aug. 10, 11, and 12, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the basketball camp for 3rd- through 8th-grade students will take place at the South Sixth Street playground.

The camp strives to teach students the basics of basketball and life skills. Each day of camp will focus on a theme – kindness, faith, and grit.

Coaches will also talk to youth about the importance of academics.

“A goal of this basketball camp is to develop a love for a sport that will provide academic opportunities for them as they go through school,” Zook said. “Kids who join school or community teams through middle and high school have higher graduation rates, so it’s part of our focus on mental wellness, mind and body integration, and skills training that translates to academic and life achievements.”

The basketball camp coaches have experience playing basketball as well as coaching the sport. Sevco coached competitive AAU Sports basketball with his son for five years. Laicha was the head coach for the ELCO women’s basketball team for several years. And Fick is now the head coach for the Elizabethtown College women’s basketball team.

“For me personally, [the basketball camp] is an opportunity to pay it forward for the blessings that I’ve had from spending time at the South Sixth Street playground and growing up there,” Sevco said. “I have been working with UPMC for 30 years. … I mentor and coach a lot of physicians and executives, but I’m passionate about mentoring youth as well.”

The camp will provide students with lunch and drinks, a basketball, a t-shirt, and a commemorative medal coin.

Camp registration for the first 40 students is now open and free of charge. All others will be waitlisted.

The basketball camp registration forms. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

On Aug. 11 at 6 p.m., the basketball camp will host a potluck for the Lebanon community. At the potluck, Spaulding Sole Savers will give youth back-to-school supplies.

“It’ll be a nice outing for the community to remember that we are … a family,” Joshua Spaulding said.

A mental health foundation that focuses on prevention-based work with youth using sports, fitness, and motivation, Spaulding Sole Savers’ mission is to change the narrative by destigmatizing the negative things that youth deal with. The organization is 100% funded by nonprofits.

For their second annual back-to-school giveaway, Spaulding Sole Savers will give away backpacks filled with different supplies, including notebooks, pencils, colored pencils, markers, and t-shirts from local businesses.

In addition, local barbers and hairdressers will be present to cut and style youth and their guardians’ hair.

“The goal behind emphasizing our appearance and things like that, just slightly, is because confidence is the key to success,” Spaulding said. “In thinking about going back to school, we want our kids to be able to look at themselves in the mirror and … stand up tall … and be confident.”

On Aug. 12, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., the basketball camp will hold a 3-on-3 tournament under the lights. The winning teams will receive prizes.

During the tournament, sponsors of the events, including individual sponsors and local organizations, churches, and businesses, will be recognized.

Tournament registration is open now for youth and adults until Aug. 7 and is free of charge.

The basketball tournament registration form. (Provided by Sharon Zook)

“We just want this to be a celebration of Lebanon, really, as a great community,” Sevco said. “It’s a place that I have a great amount of respect and appreciation for. … I think we just want this to be a great story for Lebanon in terms of pulling together and doing something positive for youth.”

A clinical/community psychologist by day, Zook spoke about the significance of programs in making youth feel supported by their community. In addition, she claimed that that sense of support can have positive effects on youth’s mental health and can help prevent mental health crises, which can be life-saving as mental health resources are limited.

Zook continued, “On top of all these [mental health, family, health] issues that our children face, … there was a middle-school kid [Jason Rivera] who was murdered in February, so we have mental health issues of struggling kids who are coping with just that situation, losing a good friend, and there not being any resolution with that situation.”

The organizers of the Joseph P. Sevco Jr. basketball camp hope to continue the camp and tournament and potentially expand upon them in the future based on this year’s participation, engagement, and feedback.

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Lexi Gonzalez has worked as a reporter with LebTown since 2020. She is a Lancaster native and became acquainted with Lebanon while she earned her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.