The purpose, Future Spartans President Steven Allen said, is to bring fun and life lessons to Cleburne area youth by using basketball as the tool.
“To provide opportunities and give kids safe and healthy alternatives through the game of basketball,” Allen said. “Basketball is how we do that but it leads to everything else. It leads to forming mentorships and to us working with a lot of at-risk kids and filling the gaps for those kids.
“Through Future Spartans we work to steer them clear, hold them accountable and have fun and teach them valuable lessons along the way. The goal is that those lessons translate within the game of basketball but also in life as well.”
It’s about giving back and paying forward, Future Spartans coach Sadait Carr said.
“We’re here for the kids really,” Carr said. “We’re all about the kids and helping them get what they need and get a good start in life. To see them come in and get that development and realize success.”
Allen, Carr, Future Spartans coach Jamark Scales and Director of Marketing and Fundraising Chazmon Allen, now in their 30s and 40s, all grew up and still live in Cleburne. Several of them are active in Cleburne’s Men On A Mission group as well, an organization that plans Cleburne’s annual Juneteenth parade and activities, organizes Christmas toy drives and, in conjunction with another local organization, Sisters & Co., coordinates back-to-school backpack drives among other activities.
Future Spartans, Steven Allen explained, is a separate entity from Men On A Mission.
“We started as Team Future,” Allen said. “Then merged with another group called the Cleburne Spartans and became the Future Spartans. That was a mutual merger of like-minded individuals because we recognized we were both doing a lot of the same things. They were good at the logistical side of things while we had the competitive edge and expertise when it came to basketball and blended all that together as the Future Spartans.”
The Future Spartans have operated under their current name for three years but the group dates back to 2014.
Future Spartans is an Amateur Athletic Union, or AAU, program.
Although the program has been around for a while it remains unknown to many.
“So we’re working to put people on notice of our existence, that this is a program for our kids right here in our community,” Steven Allen said. “A lot of people are aware of us but there’s so many who still are not. We want to reach any parents and kids out there who may be interested in Future Spartans and want to grow the positivity that can come from putting ourselves out there.”
The current age range of players, both boys and girls, is 7 to 15.
“We want to expand and add more teams in the future as we continue to draw funds and gain more community interest and following,” Steven Allen said. “We’re going to be as big as the community will allow us to be and take on as much as we can with the people we have.”
Participation involves costs for registration fees, jerseys, insurance and other costs.
“As we all know, everybody can’t afford those things,” Steven Allen said. “What we like to do for those who can’t afford is get sponsorships from local businesses and donations from the public and private sector. We’re a 501(c)(3) and 100 percent non profit. We apply every dollar to every need of every child that’s in our program.”
Nor is participation restricted to Cleburne children.
“Open to all kids,” Steven Allen said. “A lot of our kids are from Cleburne but we fashion ourselves as a Johnson County club because we reach out to surrounding areas as well. We take kids even if they’re not from Johnson County. We’re looking for any kids who want to put the work in and grow through the game of basketball.”
Allen and the others running the program said they lead by experience.
“The biggest thing is all of us having grown up here and having been in the shoes of where these kids are now,” Steven Allen said. “As a young kid you’re trying to pick up on pretty much anything but also looking to the people in the community.
“There was a lady in the community at Cleburne Middle School, which is Wheat Middle School now. She was a janitor at the school. She and some of the parents started a basketball team for kids. It wasn’t very successful at the time and didn’t last that long, but it was the idea behind it that was important. They took everybody who wanted to play, didn’t care how old you were. They said they were just trying to give opportunities to kids with no opportunities.”
Allen said he and the others remembered that later in life.
“It was the spirit of it and the experience and the attempts on their parts to help kids,” Scales said. “It was that intent behind it. We remembered that later in life and connected as like-minded individuals to try to make something happen to help kids now.”
In crafting Future Spartans, Allen, Scales and the others studied what worked and what didn’t from that middle school basketball team of their youth as well as from other Cleburne area youth sports programs.
Basketball provides the starting point but not the whole point.
“It’s a year round program and we compete on the circuit,” Steven Allen said. “But we do other events and community projects.”
Pictures on the group’s Facebook page — Future Spartans of Texas — show the young players cleaning up a county resident’s house over the 4th of July holiday.
“We’ve done projects like that where someone is elderly or disabled and not able to make repairs or clean up,” Steven Allen said. “We come in with our kids and get them involved in helping others and learning those valuable lessons to put others first and that it’s not always about you. We want our kids to be givers and do their part in the world.
“So we incorporate activities and things like that to build character and build a positive team approach. Some of our players, this is the only place for them to learn those things. So we try to push that out there as much as we can in any fashion it’s just that we’re using basketball as the springboard to do that.”
Future Spartan players practice at WMS and Fulton Education Cetner. Unfortunately, they host no tournaments in Cleburne yet. That, Steven Allen said, comes down to logistics and securing places to play, challenges they hope to rectify.
“It would be a great addition to this town,” Scales said. “Plus, when you think about it, when we go to other cities for tournaments we’re buying food, gas, getting hotels and spending money in those cities so why not have that going on in Cleburne and people from other cities coming here and spending money.”
Steven Allen agreed. He and others said the program serves as a counter to claims by many that Cleburne offers little in the way of activities for younger people.
“To me it’s a no brainer to get some of these tournaments here,” Allen said. “It would be a great way to help the community thrive and grow and that’s another reason we hope to see community support grow for this.”
The program also gives kids interested in pursuing athletics in high school a leg up, Allen added.
“We’ve heard from coaches that they respect our kids and the experience they receive from Future Spartans,” Allen said. “By the time they get to high school they’re not green, have that experience and their basketball IQ is higher than kids who haven’t played on the circuit.
“And it’s a joy for us to see these kids come in and develop and grow in their talent and every kid we have has valuable experience they can share that’s a testament to what’s going on and the opportunities being created by Future Spartans.”
Jayvon Matheson, 14, became involved with the program two years ago.
“You make friends and it’s fun to have something to do and not be stuck at home,” Matheson said. “There’s not a lot to do in Cleburne and this is fun, definitely. It’s things outside of basketball too. They take us places, show us things, give us life lessons and things like that.”
Callee Evans, 14, joined Future Spartans a couple of months ago because, she said, she loves basketball.
“She’s got game,” Scales said. “Highly skilled and would be out playing basketball all day if she could.”
Kaeden Grant, 13, competes at the highest level, Scales said, giving high school kids a run for their money.
“I like playing at a high level of competition,” Grant said. “Developing my skills and getting experience and practice in.”
Steven Allen called the program a win for all involved.
“It’s put us in so many positions that we wouldn’t be in were it not for basketball,” Allen said. “So even as adults we’re inspired everyday by seeing what these kids are doing, how they’re growing and just to be there for them to help them out, just talk or whatever. That’s the beautiful part of this program and the thing I love most.”
For information on Future Spartans visit the Future Spartans of Texas Facebook page.