More children taking advantage of Tampa's Stay and Play

- As Bryce Singleton's jump shots filled the hoop at the Martin Luther King Recreation Complex along the western edge of the Hillsborough River, he couldn't have felt any further removed from the violence of last week involving Tampa teenagers, who were only a little older than him.

"You can play basketball and do little activities," he said of the Stay and Play program, that he attends every night.

Yet, his mother's words always stay with him.

"She just says that she doesn't want to bury her own kid," said Singleton. "That's what she tells me and my brother."

On June 20, an 18-year-old allegedly shot and killed a 17-year-old, and wounded a 14-year-old in east Tampa.

On June 21, deputies reported three teens were riding around randomly shooting BBs at people.

On June 24, a stray bullet at Jefferson and Columbus killed a grandma sitting in her car, and groups of warring teens are suspected.

Last weekend, five Tampa teens were arrested in Pinellas County, after an armed carjacking.

"They don't feel like they're worth it," said Stay and Play program leader Marlin Monroe. "It is very hard for them to find their way in this day-and-age."

Almost 350 kids a night at more than 10 locations have taken advantage of the free program that runs from 6 p.m. to midnight, dinner included. Last year, just under 300 came out to play. 

"It's just not opening up a gym and rolling a ball out. I feel like it is interacting with them," said Monroe. "Kind of giving them that attention that maybe they might not get."

Monroe believes, despite violent headlines, that the program works everyday in keeping at-risk teens safe.

When he grows up, Bryce said he plans to open a restaurant. But at 13, there are few places he is able to go outside of the Stay and Play locations.

"It is important to be here," said Singleton. "It is keeping you away from bad influences."

The Stay and Play program is always looking for volunteers. For more information, call the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department at (813) 274-8615. 

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