OWENSBORO, Ky. (WEHT) – For half a century, the Owensboro community has gathered every year for some summer hoops, and Tuesday marked the start of the 49th annual Dust Bowl. Hundreds of players and fans filled Kendall Perkins Park all with their own memories from years before.

“It brings the community together,” said Lauren Coots of Philpot, Ky. “It’s something if you talk about it around here, everybody knows what it is. The Dust Bowl brings me back to my roots. My dad, my uncles played in the dust bowl. When I was in high school, we would come down and watch, my high school basketball team would come. So it’s just something I’ve always known and loved.”

They all gathered to enjoy the evening and spend time with family and friends, and at the same time, bring kids together in a safe place with a positive impact.

“They gotta have something to do, you know, that keeps them out of trouble,” said Lamech Curry of Owensboro. “They just don’t have nothing to focus their mind on.”

The Dust Bowl has proven to be a place where kids can learn to focus their time and energy on athletics and staying active, while receiving great mentorship from leaders and role models in the community.

“It’s a safe place,” added Coots. “My son’s coach for the fifth and sixth grade 5-on-5, he’s done the ‘Balls Up Guns Down’ event. So he’s big in our community helping kids do things like this – just play ball, have fun, do what kids their age should be doing.”

And if the games weren’t enough entertainment, Wednesday marks kids night at the Dust Bowl.

“Everything’s free for the kids – hamburgers, hot dogs, drinks, chips,” said Byron Owens, Dust Bowl organizer. “We’re going to have inflatables. We’ll have a game trailer. We have a magician, clowns. I’m looking forward to get through this and see what happens.

Several people said they have noticed that the security has increased over the years as well. Police officers are at every corner and canvasing the area and the surrounding streets have been blocked off to keep the area safe for children running around the park.

The Dust Bowl runs from July 19-23.