By Shirley Hawkins
COMPTON — Several years ago, Stacy McAlister, founder and executive director of 5-Eleven Hoops, started the nonprofit organization that teaches basketball to autistic youth and youth with special needs.
Recently, McAlister and 5-Eleven Hoops were recognized by The Quest brand, part of The Simply Good Foods Company, which supports local communities. 5-Eleven Hoops was one of three organizations that won a $20,000 Quest grant to further their efforts to help autistic youth.
McAlister said that 5-Eleven Hoops was started when he noticed that his son Chace was exhibiting puzzling behavior.
“It was right before he turned 2,” McAlister said. “He was a little delayed in his development. He was not giving full eye contact or responding to his name. He seemed to have regressed and he had a tendency to just stare off into space.”
Concerned, McAlister and his wife took Chace to a specialist where he was tested.
“We found out that he was autistic,” McAlister said. “Autism is a developmental disability in the brain. People with autism have different ways of moving, learning, paying attention and have difficulty with social interaction, but they are no different than any other kids.”
McAlister, who had played basketball professionally in England and Brunei, created 5-Eleven Hoops in 2015 after hosting a basketball clinic with the Brunei Special Olympics during his time playing in that Middle Eastern country.
“I had never conducted a basketball clinic before and I just had the children do drills that I and other basketball players work on and they loved it.”
He discovered that basketball could help a child on the autism spectrum with cognitive and physical development. After the Brunei Special Olympics, he began to search for year-long programs for his son and found that there were few sports programs available.
But as the old saying goes, if there’s a will, there’s a way. McAlister created 5-Eleven Hoops after returning home to the states.
“The name 5-Eleven stands for my son’s birthday which is May 11, 2011,” McAlister said. “Once I returned home, I began to work out with my son and his cousin (who is also on the Autism spectrum), made some flyers, reached out to some parents and started posting videos from workouts on Instagram — so it grew from there.
“We work on all aspects of basketball, from footwork, dribbling, shooting, passing, defense and conditioning.”
Today, McAlister teaches weekly basketball clinics for autistic youth in Compton, Long Beach and Santa Monica.
McAlister said that starting 5-Eleven has been extremely gratifying.
“We push the kids,” he said. “They’re doing drills and fitness routines that we modify for them. They’re building strength and gross motor skills and it helps them with weight loss.
“It also helps them build sportsmanship, social skills, coordination, strength and cognitive development. Their overall health improves, which helps with building their confidence. This carries them through life and school,” McAlister added. “It’s just great seeing the progress of the kids.”
Currently, there are 55 young people enrolled in the program and most of them heard about 5-Eleven through social media or word of mouth.
“We are expecting about 77 youths this year,” McAlister said. “It’s a safe place for them to go without being judged.
As for his own son, McAlister says he has witnessed Chace grow and blossom over the years.
“He’s more athletically gifted than I am,” McAlister said. “And he loves piano, drawing and singing.
“All the kids look forward to the basketball program,” he added. “When I have a bad day, I just go to practice at 5-Eleven Hoops and the kids brighten my day. I think, ‘If they can make it, then I can, too.’”
McAlister had some advice for parents with autistic children.
“Be proactive and do your research on things that may help your child. Every child is different so what may work for your child may not work for another,” he said.
“Mentally, taking care of an autistic child could take a toll. You may have a breakdown or become stressed out and cry because there is so much effort you have to put into the children. If this happens, I would suggest getting a therapist to seek help,” he added.
“Also, know your rights and research programs that are available for your child because they will not be easy to find. You have to dig deep and find them. But overall enjoy the journey that God has put you on with your child because it will only make you stronger.”
The 5-Eleven Hoops program can be reached at https://5elevenhoops.org or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.