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Free Volleyball Training Class Turns Uptown Kids into All Stars

By Nigel Chiwaya | February 7, 2013 10:21am

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Spoils of drug busts are being turned into seeds for peace.

"Saturday Night Lights," a free volleyball training session organized by the Manhattan District Attorney's office for children ages 12-18 in Washington Heights and Inwood, is using confiscated drug money to fund the program, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced.

The program debuted in January at the Police Athletic League Armory on 169th Street and Fort Washington Avenue.

Children in the program are trained by instructors from All-Star Volleyball, a USA Juniors volleyball Club that has sent several former players to Division I colleges.

"We've taken money that comes from an illegal source and used it for the hiring of coaches and trainers to makes these opportunities available for the kids," Vance said in a statement, likening the program to the biblical phrase "swords to ploughshares."

The DA's office operates several weekend athletic programs for children around the city, including the 119th Street PAL Center, the Polo Grounds and the Johnson Houses in Harlem and the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side.

The athletic programs are designed to serve two purposes: to provide children exercise and instruction while keeping them off the streets during evening hours.

"We designed them as an alternative for kids at the hours when youth violence is at its highest," said Estelle Stryker-Santiago, the Juvenile Justice Initiatives director at the District Attorney's office.

The Armory's volleyball training is broken into two sessions, a girls-only session from 4 to 6 p.m. and a co-ed session from 6 to 8 p.m. Instructors say that kids spend the time learning the basics of the sport. 

"We don't just tell them to pass the ball," said Collin Henry, one of the program's coaches. "We break it down to the basics and then build."

Parents who are interested in enrolling their children in Saturday Night Lights can visit the PAL Armory at 216 Fort Washington Ave. or call 917-821-2645.