The AUS10 Drills & Skills Basketball Program is ready for a celebration.

Saturday's banquet at the Stone Quarry Banquet Center will mark the end of its third year serving boys and girls in elementary school through junior high school.

“It’s very rewarding,” said Leslie Austin, who co-founded the program with her husband, Gordon.

The free program, open to any interested players, runs during the high school basketball season — from November until March. Players attend three practice sessions per week at the old West Side School where coaches Peewee Austin and Chris Orelli help players develop their basketball skills, while George Austin instructs on strength and conditioning.

“We just want to give back to the community. That’s something we’ve always had a passion to do is work with youths,” Peewee Austin said. “Basketball is a great game, but we’re just trying to mentor these kids in the right direction. That’s the most important thing.”

The program began with seven elementary basketball players from New Castle, but has grown over its three seasons.

“To us, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, as long as you come with the right attitude. When you look around nowadays, the attitudes of a lot of kids is bad and, sometimes, the attitudes of adults are bad, too. Once you come here, you’re part of our family,” Peewee Austin said. “For us, this program is deeper than just learning about basketball. Growing up, I’ve always had great mentors, like my dad and uncles and coaches, that pointed me in the right direction. The kids of today don’t always have that. So, that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to give back to the community and help to create some good young men and women.

“It’s also nice for parents — three nights a week, they don’t have to worry about their kids. They know where they are and know they are under great tutelage. Yes, they are being pushed, but, at the same time, it’s important to show them we care about them, too. When you do the small things, they add up to the big things. I am trying to instill in them what was instilled in me by some great mentors.”

Beyond learning about basketball, participants have the opportunity to give back, too.

“In the summer, after the basketball sessions are done, we do community service,” Leslie Austin said. “We find community service things going on around the county and contact whoever is in charge to see if it’s OK for our players to come and be a part of it.”

This year’s banquet will feature a special guest — New Castle’s Lorri Johnson. Johnson, who is New Castle’s all-time leading scorer with 2,110 points, went on to star at Pitt. She finished her Panthers career as the all-time leading scorer, with 2,312 points from 1987-92. In January, Johnson became Pitt’s first female athlete to have her jersey retired when the Panthers raised her No. 24 to the rafters. She has offered to help coach the players in the AUS10 Drills & Skills Basketball Program as well.

“Lorri is a great addition,” Peewee Austin said. “Her plethora of knowledge about basketball and life is something we look forward to.”

Johnson also will earn induction into the University of Pittsburgh’s 2019 Athletics Hall of Fame. The 2019 class will receive induction at the Pitt Hall of Fame Dinner on Sept. 20 at the Petersen Events Center. On Sept. 21, the inductees will be introduced at Heinz Field when the Panthers host Central Florida in football. 

Boys and girls in elementary school through junior high interested in taking part in the AUS10 Drills & Skills Basketball Program may contact Peewee Austin at (724) 674-7800.

Joe Sager is a former full-time sports writer for the New Castle News and currently freelances for the News and other Western Pennsylvania newspapers.

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