WCPO partnered with The Cincinnati Herald to explore gun violence in Cincinnati and what is being done to solve the problem.
CINCINNATI — On Jared Ward’s basketball court, there’s a lot more at stake than just winning.
Ward is the founder and president of Ballers Sports Group, a nonprofit designed to mentor, train and teach young athletes.
Some of Ward’s players say the biggest wins come courtesy of the coach. Eleven-year-old Terrion Waller described his coach as "a good person."
“He’ll teach you some stuff, and he’s just a good man in general,” Waller said.
Lovie Waller, 12, agrees that Ward is always positive and never in a bad mood.
Ward grew up in Avondale, where he says not everyone gets a fair shot. That’s why he felt compelled to help kids in the neighborhood.
“Here, a lot of our kids grow up early," Ward said. "They’re left to be babysitters. They’re left to be fathers. They’re left to be mothers. And it’s hard for them to actually be kids."
Ward said he recognizes that his life, like many in the neighborhood, could have pivoted or even been cut short.
“The fact that I have two older brothers who never made it past the age of 21. I have friends who never got to have kids. I know girls who died young,” Ward said.
Mentors at a local Boys and Girls Club were instrumental in shaping Ward’s life. That’s why he spreads himself so thin; he said he wants to help “touch every single kid that comes around.”
That’s where the game comes in. Ward is a self-described youth advocate, he's the athletic director for Elevated Excellence Sports Academy and he founded Ballers Sports Group.
For Terri Waller, the basketball games are about so much more than keeping score.
“It means a lot because… it keeps my kids busy, keeps them out of trouble, which is very important in these days and times,” Waller said.
In addition to learning the rules of the game, responsibility and discipline, Ward said he also makes a point to focus on mental health.
“Kids can talk to people. Kids can go to their coach. Kids can go to a therapist, or they can go to anyone that they respect to be able to vent and receive that different type of love that only certain people can give,” Ward said.
Ward said he believes every player can make it with the right fans cheering them on.
“I’ve been them," Ward said. "I’ve been down in the dumps. I didn’t have anywhere to go. I’ve been that person who got in trouble, in the police car on the way to the district, I’ve been that person. But I also know that it’s a better way."
The Cincinnati Hearld's Andria Carter contributed to this report.
Watch WCPO's special, "From Gun Violence to Solutions," tonight at 7 p.m.