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 Players from travel ball teams across central Alabama participated in the weekend’s event at the ROD Center in Wetumpka.

The Renew Outreach Development (ROD) Center hosted its second annual Spring Fling Classic on Saturday with 30 travel basketball teams around the state traveling to Wetumpka for the youth basketball tournament. Since founding the organization in 2017, event director and Wetumpka native Ira Walls has made this event a priority to help the raise money for the ROD Center.

“After that first classic, we actually had a season and went to play in other tournaments,” Walls said. “I got to talk to a lot of coaches and they heard what I was doing and heard my plea. I told them I was going to have a tournament one day and they said they would come out and support me.”

Before creating the ROD Center, Walls started a basketball team for kids from his church to help mentor them outside school. The word started to spread Walls held practices at the park and he saw the numbers start to grow quickly.

By 2017, Walls was in charge of three teams in the Youth Basketball of America league in Alabama. He was the only coach and the team was without a building for organized practices.

Walls found the building on North Alabama Street in Wetumpka which was used as the old high school in the mid-20th century before turning into the middle school then the local Boys & Girls Club of America. The building had been abandoned for four years but Walls already had a plan for renovation and that is how the Spring Fling Classic was born.

“The first one was a fundraiser to put some money into the facility,” Walls said. “We just got some kids from around the neighborhood who wanted to play basketball and threw some teams together.”

Over the next year, Walls hired new coaches and got more kids involved in the organization. It now has a team in four different age divisions and traveled to tournaments throughout the state to participate while also spreading word of what was being built in Wetumpka.

The renovation was finally completed last year which included repainting the inside of the building and cleaning the floors to look like a basketball court again. Once it was done, Walls knew it was ready to host a tournament and it did not take long to find some suitors.

“After I got the facility finished up and the floor done, we put this on our AAU schedule,” Walls said. “We got a lot of phone calls about wanting to come play. We have 30 teams across seven different divisions from all over central Alabama.”

Walls called the ROD Center a basketball program but there are other clear goals for Walls and his staff. While the competition is at the center of it all, Walls uses the time he has to mentor kids in need through outreach programs and educational training.

While most travel basketball teams are strict about who gets to be on the team, Walls opens his team to anyone willing to work. His team, the All-Star LA Elites, has a focus on developing skills as an athlete while teaching players to be outstanding individuals.

“We don’t do tryouts for our team,” Walls said. “I don’t care if you are Level 1 or Level 10 in skill. If you want to play, we’re going to let you play so we can try to mentor these kids. We want to connect with them.”

The basketball program at the ROD Center runs from March to July but the gym is always open for the kids who want to play. The center offers an after-school program throughout the school year to offer one-on-one tutoring and any homework assistance that is needed.

As for the basketball side of things, the focus will continue to be on his own players but the annual tournament is clearly not a bad thing to continue. After seeing the growth of the tournament in one year, Walls is excited to see where it goes next.

“I want to see this go on for a while,” Walls said. “We have some mechanical stuff we want to fix and we need some more staff to help out but we are doing some good work here.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.