Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat —  West Stein Lane basketball coach Patricia Sweazer gives Kenneth Bradford a kiss at halftime during the tournament.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — West Stein Lane basketball coach Patricia Sweazer gives Kenneth Bradford a kiss at halftime during the tournament.

Archived Story

Pilgrim Baptist hosts annual basketball tournament

Published 12:08am Monday, December 2, 2013

NATCHEZ — Darius McGruder is probably a better football player than he is a basketball player.

The Natchez High School senior offensive and defensive lineman made his way to the Martin Gymnasium Saturday to put his hoops skills to the test. But McGruder said basketball is more of a hobby for him.

“I don’t have any basketball moves,” McGruder joked. “I just play for fun on weekends if I don’t have (football) practice, I’ll go outside and shoot around.”

McGruder, a member of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, took part in the Hooping For Jesus basketball tournament, which the church hosted as a way to bring local churches and members of the community together. The tournament lasted Saturday and Sunday, hosting 12 teams split between adult, ages 13-15 and ages 16-18 divisions.

Deborah Berry, chairwoman of the Missionary Society of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist, said the tournament was brought back from a two- to three-year hiatus last fall, and she said this year’s tournament would hopefully pave the way for more participation in the future.

“The first few years we played, we had about 15 to 20 teams,” Berry said. “Last year we had 10 to 12 teams. This is a fellowship tournament for us to bring churches in the community together to play ball. We’re going to work on getting more participation next year.”

And there’s no better way to do that over the holiday season than to offer locals a reason to play basketball, Berry added.

“Men love basketball, and children love basketball,” Berry said. “Some of these guys are 40 and older, but they come because they love basketball.”

McGruder said the tournament was another way for him to get involved in his church, and it was his first time to take part in it.

“It’s a real honor to be a part of this, because we play local churches that don’t really know each other. The tournament gives us a chance to know other people around the City of Natchez.”

Pilgrim Missionary Baptist member Henry Garner said he was looking forward to helping his church make an impact in the community — and to spend some time on the gym floor.

“I came to get a little exercise in and do ministry work at the same time,” Garner said. “The main thing is that this allows young and old people to get together in one area. It’s a positive environment, and it’s a good thing to do over the (Thanksgiving) break. It brings our churches and community together, and it’s one of the best times of the year to do it.”