COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Performing during a pep rally or speaking to his peers at Linden-McKinley STEM Academy takes on special meaning for drum major and senior Skyler Davila.

“Most of them have even talked about band being their safe spot, their home, so they can get away from things that harm them,” Davila said. “It just keeps me off things that I used to do because I used to run around the wrong people but I stopped that in the sixth grade.”

At that Thursday pep rally, which several business and community leaders attended, the message to students was to choose education over violence and drugs. The event served as a kickoff to Saturday’s Classic for Columbus All-Star basketball game — but the message also came as the city grapples with an increase in violent crimes.

The city hit a grim milestone this week of 50 homicides so far in 2023, according to the Columbus Division of Police. The city had seen 33 homicides at this time last year, and in 2021, had seen 65 by this date. 

Involvement in activities — such as band, for Davila — is one way to try and keep young people from becoming a statistic. 

Jelani Simmons, a 2018 Beechcroft High School graduate, is now a senior at the University of Southern Indiana. Simmons, who attended the pep rally, will take to the court during Saturday’s game. He advised current Linden-McKinley students to stay focused and envision where they want to be. 

That’s really the best thing to do, just locking in and getting stuff done,” Simmons said. 

Jene Davis taught at Linden-McKinley from 1968 until 1978. He also coached the 1975 and 1977 teams to state championship wins, a state appearance in 1976, four district championships, four sectional championships, and three regional wins. His efforts set countless young people on the right path. 

“Back in the ‘70s, there were a lot of issues then, and I think the success we had helped give kids motivation that they could succeed,” Davis said.

Davis also scored NCAA and NLT championships as an assistant coach under Bobby Knight at Indiana University, served as head coach at Furman University, helped coach the 1984 Olympics team, and was an assistant coach at Ohio State University.

More information about the Classic for Columbus is available here.