Local basketball team gives back

Thirteen seasons. Six championships. One hundred points per game.

The Kankakee Country Soldiers have experienced great success on the basketball court, but what may go unnoticed is something that cannot be displayed in a statistic, their impact on the community.

The Kankakee County Soldiers were formed in 2007 and played in the International Basketball League for their first six seasons. In 2011, president and owner Barry Bradford created the Independent Basketball Association (IBA). The Soldiers were one of the six charter members in the association.

The main goal of the Soldiers is to act as a “spring board” to the next level. Their players hope to eventually play professional basketball overseas or in the National Basketball Association (NBA). However, Bradford said there is a higher purpose for the club, a purpose that extends into the Kankakee community.

“We hope to help our guys transition to life outside of basketball. That is why we are so involved in the community. We have a mentoring program, healthy life programs, and a strong youth program to help our players get involved,” Bradford said.

The Soldiers’ roster is made up of 15 men from around the area. All of these players have had experience on either the high school or college level. Players such as Stan Chizmark or Antonio Marshall played collegiately in Kankakee County at Olivet. Chizmark and Marshall currently embody the community theme of the Soldiers as they continue to give back to Olivet’s basketball program as assistant coaches.

The Soldiers host over 7,000 programs each year, including school assemblies and different community outreach events. One of the branches of the Soldiers is their youth basketball program, Example Sports, which involves between 300 and 400 kids.

This developmental club offers boys and girls, fifth-grade through 12th- grade, the opportunity to compete in Amateur Athletic Association basket- ball tournaments.

“The main focus of Example Sports is individual growth in a team environment. There is also an emphasis on skill development, growing confidence and a knowledge of the game,” Bradford said.

The Soldiers’ focus on the kids extends past their time in high school. Bradford has been working on a new program for the talented players involved with his Example Sports club. He is hoping to begin implementing a recruiting program geared to help his young players garner some interest at the collegiate level. The hope of the program is to provide the players with connections to college basketball coaches and recruiters. One example of this is making highlight videos that can be sent to the colleges young athletes apply to.

The Soldiers were winners of the first five Independent Basketball Association championships, a streak that lasted from 2011 to 2014. Since forming the Independent Basketball Association, the Soldiers have not finished lower than fourth in the league standings and have finished either first or second a total of five times.

“We try to put the best product on the floor. As a team, we believe that winning championships in our league helps our players reach the next level professionally,” Bradford said. “Also, the youth in Example Sports can learn from our players. It is just about giving the community a winning atmosphere.”

The Soldiers’ fall season is in full swing. Their next home game is Oct. 25 at Legends Sports Complex.

–Jacob Warfle, contributing writer

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