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Bender sets pace raising funds for rec center for local kids

A graduate of Picayune Memorial High School made a name for himself in the NBA and now wants to put that name to good use by helping the community from which he came.

Jonathan Bender, a graduate of Picayune Memorial High School, was a first round pick in 1999 after he applied for early entry to the NBA draft. He was the fifth first round pick when he joined the Toronto Raptors.

Bender is now retired from the NBA due to chronic leg injuries, according to http://www.nba.com/pacers/news/bender_announcement_060204.html. Now he is dedicated to passing his experiences on to the children in Picayune and the surrounding areas including Louisiana, he said.

Recently he said he has noticed that he does not see kids out playing ball like they used to, so he has set out to raise money via his foundation to build a 24 hour recreation center in Picayune.

To raise some of that money he will be presenting the Mississippi Got Game All Star Challenge at his old high school, Picayune Memorial. The event will take place May 19, from 2 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the high school gym. It will draw all the top players from local elementary schools up to the college level to test their skills. Best of all the proceeds will go toward the recreation center.

“I just want to make sure these guys are motivated to get out there and play again,” Bender said.

Bender said the mayor and city council are working on finding some land to build the recreation center. Mayor Greg Mitchell said a specific place has not been found yet but there are still some legal issues to iron out about the location. The city will look for a legal avenue to find a location for the recreation center, Mitchell said.

Not only will the center keep the kids active and playing sports but it will also give them a reason to stay out of trouble and away from drugs, Bender said.

For the college and high school students there will be a dunk contest and two and three point contests. Elementary students will have a chance to show off their skills and drills. A two-ball competition will also have boys and girls shooting for accumulated points. For that competition the court will be marked and points will be awarded according to where the shot was taken in the marked locations, Bender said.

Winners of the two point, dunk and three point contests will earn $2,000 for their schools, Bender said. The student who wins the skills and drills contest will earn $1,000 for their school.

Trophies will be handed out to the winners and the Pacers mascot “Boomer” will make an appearance at the event. Also featured will be Wild Wayne from Q-93 and local personality DJ Gruby.

Half of the proceeds for the event will be donated to Picayune High for use how they see fit.

Other fund raising events are being planned to help raise the necessary funds to build the recreation center such as a talent show and a Monster Masquerade Ball in Louisiana, Bender said.

The proposed recreation center is slated to feature basketball courts, a pool, football turf and possibly a room for video and board games.

“I just want to make sure I cover just about every sport,” Bender said.

Reading is just as important as physical fitness and Bender said he is doing his part by organizing a book drive to benefit the less fortunate schools in New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina. Book donation areas are expected to be set up at Wal-Marts in the area, he said.

A basketball camp is scheduled for June 4-7 for the Junior High and High school students.