As he took a break courtside, Brandon Ellestad explained what he had to do for the opportunity to practice his hook shot. "The rule is no sports until after homework. So I got my homework done.''
Last Wednesday, the 11-year-old Seminole Middle student had hustled home from school to do his math assignment. After grabbing a snack, he headed for Southwest Recreation Complex to join his buddies in the Out of School Time program.
"I like to stay busy,'' he said.
No sooner did the staff at the recreation complex wave goodbye to their summer campers than they began greeting students signed up for the OST program, designed for kids ages 9-14. The first day was Aug. 24.
Some of the kids stroll in from the bus stop on Vonn Road. Others are dropped off by their parents.
OST is a partnership between the city of Largo's recreation department, Coordinated Child Care and the Juvenile Welfare Board.
For the 2009-2010 school year, 15 students were registered, said Jennifer McMahon, manager of the Southwest Recreation Complex.
"This is the second year of the program, and all the funding from the attendance of this program goes towards funding our JWB Scholarships for camp in the summer,'' she said. "This year we had close to 120 kids on scholarship with money brought in from the OST.''
Since the renovated facility was reopened in June 2009, McMahon and her staff have been able to handle large groups. McMahon aims to have at least 25 kids participate in OST on a regular basis, but she hopes for even more.
"This age group can be a challenge,'' McMahon said. "Sometimes they're hard to keep occupied, but this is what we do.''
Her secret weapon is Andre Jones, the former supervisor of the city's outreach program at the Clearwater-Largo Free Methodist Church. After that program closed in June, McMahon hired him at Southwest.
"He is a kid magnet. Kids just love him,'' she said.
Jones greets the boys and girls as they arrive. He cranks up the music on his portable stereo as he leads games of dodgeball, Wiffle Ball and basketball inside the gym.
Homework help is provided in the classroom next to the front desk.
Once October comes, field trips and arts and crafts will be planned.
Sadie Polakoff, a seventh-grader at Seminole Middle School, has returned for a second year in the program.
"I like to come in, hang out, and I guess my favorite thing would be basketball,'' said Polakoff, 11. "Andre is cool and relaxed with the kids.''
Jones's past experience at Largo's outreach program centered on working with at-risk youth. At Southwest Recreation Complex, where the population includes both affluent families as well as those financially in need, he plans on relying on his experience.
"I've worked with a lot of kids who don't have parental support at home,'' he said. "And there are kids from all backgrounds here at Southwest, but still, always, I make sure to be an adult of influence in all the kids' lives. Kids need adults in their lives.''
To participate in the program, parents and caregivers need to visit the front desk at Southwest Recreation Complex to fill out registration forms. Once the paperwork is completed, the students are asked to simply sign in when they attend.
Although this age group is extremely independent, Jones stresses the need for parents to make sure to have a home safety plan in place.
"But once they are here inside with us, we know they are safe.''