It gives them something to do,” said Darnetta Byndum, a mother of two who lives near Crane High School on the Near West Side, as she watched her son, 14, play basketball in the schoolfs gym last Saturday.

“It forced my older son, outside during spring break, and it meant that I knew where they both were, at least for part of the day,” she said. “Usually they just hang out, eating everything.”

Byndumfs sons, who attend Cranefs middle and high schools, were playing basketball and more unorthodox sports as part of the first-ever Spring Into Sports championships, an eight-day spring break sports tournament that served to mix up teenagers from 16 neighborhoods from across Chicago and keep kids entertained during the Chicago Public Schoolsf spring break last week.

The program reached into neighborhoods around Orr, Englewood, Little Village and Crane high schools, opening doors usually kept locked during school holidays. More than 1,500 kids participated. Crane hosted a closing ceremony last Saturday.

The idea, said Keri Blackwell, the event organizer, was to expose students to different kinds of sports.

“So we got in touch with a couple of organizations and included some new sports, odd sports, archery and boxing,” she said. “We shut down basketball and made them play something else – table tennis, badminton.” And the kids enjoyed it.

Jose Ruiz, 16, said he went to the Spring into Sports program at Little Village, and then at Crane to play volleyball, but he picked up badminton. “I really like to play it,” he said.

The sport is not offered at his school, Farragut, but his eight-day career was worth it, Ruiz said, batting the shuttlecock at a friend. “We got to meet new people, from other schools and places, at least to say hi,” he said.

Earnest Gates, executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Corporation, said his organization became involved because of its Safe Summer basketball and baseball programs.

“One of the things we hear at CAPs meetings, at LSC meetings, is that the kids have nothing to do on break,” Gates said. “So wefre stepping into that hole. And wefre attracting major numbers.”

Gates said Near West wants to participate in Spring into Sports for the long-haul.

“We hope to use it to introduce the kids to other sports, like gymnastics,” he said.

Joel Bookman, director of programs for LISC/Chicago, said he liked watching the kids learning archery and table tennis during the week.

“Wefre planning to do much more of this after school lets out,” said Bookman. “It grew out of our long-term programs, and we really hope to expand it into other neighborhoods.”

“One of the things about the program was that the regional teams were able to incorporate everyone,” said Blackwell. “There were no tryouts, and if you wanted to try out new sports, you could.”

“We were thrilled that CPS and the high schools allowed the program,” she added. “This is what the kids need.”

Blackwell said there were no significant incidents between the participants all week, despite the high turnout. “If it goes like this, we hope to continue to get the gyms to stay open during the holidays,” she said.