Fred McCathorine needed a hook. Not the kind that is curved and metal. This hook is round and orange with plenty of bounce.
McCathorine, the director of sports ministry for First Baptist Church of Guilford, on Columbia's eastern edge, has been coaching the First Baptist Crusaders' youth basketball program since 1987.
He has found that basketball is a great way to get young men involved in the church.
"Ours is an outreach program," said McCathorine, 51, a Columbia resident who is vice president of operations for Trigen Energy Corp. in Baltimore. "We were looking for a hook, and basketball was our hook. Basketball is a tool to get kids to come to our program. Basketball attracts young men to Bible study. We exchange ideas and views.
"We want to work with young men on how they carry themselves and feel about themselves. We like to teach young men who may not have a tradition of going to church. It allows these kids to talk to kids who belong to our church and see why we worship the way we do."
Tyrone Jordan, 46, who coaches the Crusaders in the 17-under and 15-under divisions, agrees with McCathorine.
"Our basketball program is to help mold the kids," said Jordan, a Baltimore resident who works as a maintenance engineer. "Hopefully, they will grow up and take the right road. I want the kids to open a book and study. I want them to earn and fight for what they want in life.
"This program is more than just playing basketball. I talk to these kids about school, girlfriends, the way people perceive them, the way they dress. I want these kids to become better people. Before every game, we pray."
First Baptist is a founding member and sponsor of the Christian Fellowship Basketball League, which was formed in 1989 and draws players from metro Baltimore. CFBL leagues run in the fall, winter and summer.
The fall league has 30 teams, all coached by parents. The season runs from September to November. Howard was represented this past season by teams from Long Reach, Centennial and Wilde Lake.
"The fall league is where high school varsity players from different high schools can play together to prepare for their high school basketball seasons," McCathorine said.
The Crusaders' winter league runs from January to March at Edmondson-West Side High School in Baltimore. The league has eight teams in the 16-under division and six teams in the 14-under division. Three of the teams are First Baptist squads.
"The idea in the winter league is to get the kids playing together as much as possible until [Amateur Athletic Union] season starts," McCathorine said.
As more varsity and JV players joined First Baptist teams, the program needed to find a way to keep these talented players interested in its program. In 1994, First Baptist organized AAU teams to compete on the state level.
In 1996, the Crusaders' 14-under team won a state title and represented Maryland at the AAU National Championships in Richmond, Va. Last season, the Crusaders' 15-under AAU team finished fifth in the state and represented Maryland at the National Invitational Tournament in Clarksville, Tenn.
"We needed more competition for the varsity and junior varsity kids," McCathorine said. "At an AAU event, college coaches get to see them play. It's important for kids who live in Howard County or in Baltimore who may not normally be exposed to college coaches."
First Baptist has AAU teams in the 13-under, 14-under, 15-under, 16-under, 17-under and 19-under divisions. The AAU season runs from March through summer.
Tryouts for the Crusaders' AAU teams this season will begin March 12 at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, where the Crusaders hold most of their practices.
"We have open tryouts for the AAU program," McCathorine said. "This differs from our rec program. In our rec program, the kids just ask to play basketball, and we let them in. We won't turn kids away in our rec program."
The First Baptist program, McCathorine said, receives no church subsidy. Rather it receives donations from several major Baltimore-area corporations and individuals so that its teams can compete locally and nationally. The Crusaders, he said, ask the church only for the use of vans and buses when necessary.
Besides playing in tournaments and leagues in Maryland each year, the Crusaders have also made trips to Akron, Ohio; Philadelphia; and Orlando, Fla. The program does not charge players to play and provides insurance for its players through the AAU and Youth Basketball Of America.
"Our program is disciplined," McCathorine said. "We may not have super athletes, but we run plays. We get a lot of positive feedback on the plays we run, and we get a lot of positive feedback on our program in general."