Video courtesy of Justin Cannon

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A University of Rochester medical student has started a youth basketball program with a focus on healthy decision-making. 

Shane Fuentes had the idea to create Crossovers and Conversations after teaching high school basketball for a year in Taiwan. 

“When I got back to the United States, I started to get phone calls from these young men that I was working with, and oftentimes they were health related questions as they knew I was going into the health field,” Fuentes said. “And I realized that it was the relationship that I built with them on the basketball court that allowed them to have the trust to ask me these types of questions.” 

Fuentes decided it was important young men in Rochester had a place they felt comfortable to have their questions answered.

Hence why he decided to create Crossovers and Conversation, a youth development program that combines basketball skills with discussion about health and wellness. 

“I think especially me and the other program facilitators, being young people, meaning closer to the actual participants’ ages, makes them feel like they aren’t necessarily talking to an adult, they’re not talking to a teacher that is going to go and tell their parents the questions that they were asking,” Fuentes said. “I feel like it just helps them feel like it’s a safe place to talk.”

On a typical day, participants will take part in two hours of basketball skill development to start, followed by an hour of health decision. Then they have lunch, followed by two and a half more hours of basketball. 

“That’s really focusing on using the skills that they learned earlier in the day and implementing them more into gameplay and game like scenarios,” Fuentes said. 

The program tackles topics like drug-use, sex and consent, and incorporates these topics into basketball and different health discussions. 

“Let’s say the day’s theme is communication. We may start off the day asking the students, when is communication important in basketball and when is it important in real life? So then they’re thinking about these things, not in a silo, but how they are throughout their entire day,” Fuentes explained. 

“So for example, on the day that we talked about communication, we may be focusing on talking on defense on the basketball court. And then when we’re in the classroom, actually having the health discussion the day’s focus is consent and how communication is really important in your relationships.”

Fuentes says the program isn’t about telling youth what they should or shouldn’t be doing, but instead, giving them the knowledge to they need to make healthy decisions. 

“We want to give them the confidence that they need to be autonomous in this decision making. And then we really want to connect them to resources that exist in Rochester that can help them if they ever need it,” he said. 

To help Fuente’s efforts, URMC awarded him with a Community Health mini grant, funded by the Center for Community Health and Prevention and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

“We’re very fortunate to receive it. It’s going to help us get masks for the students, it’s going to help us get basketballs so that everyone can have their own during the program,” Fuentes said. “In addition, it is going to be allowing us to buy snacks and refreshments for the students as well as educational materials that we might need.”

Fuentes said the grant money will also allow the program to maintain their relationships with R-Centers long-term and will make future iterations of the program possible. 

Crossovers and Conversations takes 20 students at a time. The first session begins over the Rochester City School District’s winter break and is for young men ages 13 to 18. It takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 460 Oak Street. 

To register for the program, click here