MT. AIRY >> Mt. Airy native Haneef Hill always knew he was going to be leader.
It took many years to translate this enterprising and entrepreneurial spirit into a viable nonprofit. Now that the new Urban Youth Kings and Queens initiative is off the ground, Hill realizes that he has found his calling.
As soon as the new basketball program opened this year, Northwest Philadelphia parents signed their children up and filled in 80 initial slots.
Yet this is only the beginning of Hill’s vision for community programming. He said he feels there is still room for all kinds of workshops and training programs.
While these are still evolving, Hill is putting his concentration on the growing basketball program.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to have a program that does not exclude,” Hill said. “I felt it was important to give all those who were interested in the program ... an opportunity to join. We decided to take the young people where they are and work with them.
“So, [one] can get in the program at any level. That is why we have those who have different talents and skills set. All children will have the chance to work hard, learn and develop. Because of this, we have gotten great feedback,” Hill said.
Another reason Hill has been able to recruit so many youngsters to the program is that he is known in the athletic circles in Mt. Airy, where he grew up, as well as nearby communities like Germantown, West Oak Lane and Chestnut Hill. He has coached baseball and football with some of the Little Leagues throughout the area. When he was growing up, he was a member of teams in the area.
“Having worked with families in other sports did help me to get the word out,” Hill said. “It is great to have a baseball or football program, but basketball is another sport. I was looking around and realized that we needed to have a basketball program.
“This is really something new, as far as a league, in this area. Lately there has been a lot of [emphasis] on baseball and football. I wanted to show that you can develop sportsmanship and leadership skills through basketball, too,” Hill said.
In fact, it is the leadership training that is one of the cornerstones of the new initiative, according to Hill. He said he put “kings and queens” in the name of the program to stress this point. Just as royalty leads a country, he wanted the students — no matter what their background — to feel that they also can take charge.
“Many kids do not realize that they can reach for the top,” Hill said. “That’s why I want to serve as a role model in leadership for them. I also want them to be aware that I grew up in the same neighborhood as they did and I now have a leadership role. They, too, can do that.
“I knew while growing up that I wanted to be in charge of a business or take a leadership role. I didn’t know what I was going to do or how I would do it. I had no idea what that would look like. I want them to consider how they also can lead in a way that serves themselves and others,” he said.
Hill also said he wants to dignify basketball as a serious sport. He said many parents and some of the youngsters see basketball as a lesser game. He insisted one can learn athletic and physical prowess from basketball in addition to strategic thinking and teamwork.
“That is why though I now live in the Northeast, I have come back here to form this group around the corner from where I have lived most of my life. I see this as more than just a sport but as a health and wellness program that can give back to the community,” Hill said.
“My son is playing in the new basketball league in Mt. Airy,” said Sherri L. Hall, of Mt. Airy. “My husband, Michael Hall, also happens to be an assistant coach. We found out about the organization through Mt. Airy Baseball in the spring. Many parents from baseball signed up their children to play. It’s a great program.”