Great Bend’s Allen Winder has traveled the world and worked with famous people along the way.
Thanks to a long-time relationship with Basketball Hall of Famer Meadowlark Lemon, Winder is assisting with an international campaign to make sons and daughters of military personnel feel special.
Winder serves as director of operations for Meadowlark Lemon Ministries for the “Team Meadowlark for Military Teens” project that features a camp in Innsbruck, Austria, after Christmas. Military children from 22 countries will participate. The 2014 military teen camp is scheduled in Germany.
Lemon’s ministry work will be profiled in March on ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary series and on an Oprah Winfrey special. Rich Gentile will produce a documentary for CBS that will air in February for Black History month. The show will examine the role that basketball has played as a vehicle for change, featuring Harlem Globetrotter footage.
The website www.meadowlarklemon.org offers information about Lemon’s work. The website www.gofundme.com/team-meadowlark offers an opportunity to donate for the camps.
“Meadowlark is the greatest of all time — the Clowned Prince of basketball,” Winder said. “For so many years, the face of Meadowlark Lemon was on my wall at home. It’s hard for me to take him off that wall.”
They have teamed with Military Community Youth Ministries’ Club Beyond to produce a “Camp Meadowlark” at Club Beyond’s winter camp for military teens in Europe.
“We’ve raised funds for travel expenses and Christmas gifts including autographed basketballs, camp T-shirts, books and other gifts for hundreds of kids around the world,” Winder said.
Being a former basketball globetrotter as a Bucketeer, humor and children have always been close to Winder’s heart.
“I’m dedicated to these kids more than ever and so thankful that I have been put in this position to make a difference in their lives,” Winder said. “I’m trying to do everything I can to make this an unforgettable experience for them. They are an overlooked segment of our military. They have to leave their friends. They worry about their moms and dads.”
Club Beyond® is the name used by Military Community Youth Ministries to identify its ministry with military high school and middle school aged children worldwide. Club Beyond staff and volunteers love young people and are available to journey with them through the hard challenges of adolescence, providing positive role models and exhibiting Christ-like behavior.
“I continue to dedicate my life and my energy to helping kids by introducing them to the joys of basketball and inspiring them to pursue greater meaning in life,” Lemon said. “I do this through my not-for-profit organization, Meadowlark Lemon Ministries.”
Winder said military children often ask whether their parents are OK, or when their parents will return from a military stint.
“They are feeling sad and tumultuous feelings constantly that we rarely have to deal with,” Winder said. “We have to realize and emphatically understand that these thoughts and feelings are in addition to typical thoughts and feelings experienced by our children and our families.”
Parents who are deployed also encounter anxiety about leaving their children behind when they are in hazardous places.
“Our efforts, such as the basketball camps, can’t take away those thoughts, but we can sure make a difference in hundreds of teens lives,” Winder said. “It will also bring joy and happiness to those close to them knowing that their child is experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime dream!”
Winder was nicknamed as the Blue-Eyed Soul Brother when he played for the Bucketeers, which featured Basketball Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Marquis Haynes, the greatest dribbler of all-time. Several of the Bucketeers first gained notoriety when they entertained audiences for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Meadowlark left the Harlem Globetrotters in 1978 to create another all-black comedy basketball team — Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers.
Winder owns the only video footage to his knowledge of Wilt and Meadowlark playing with each other during Bucketeer shows.
Winder played basketball for the University of Houston for three years when he chose to leave the sport he loved because he was burned out on basketball.
Just as Winder closed one door, a window of opportunity opened.
That’s when Winder got a phone call from an associate of Meadowlark Lemon that changed his life.
“I guess it was fate, karma, that kind of thing,” Winder said.
“Who could refuse an invitation from Meadowlark Lemon?” Winder asked.
After a tryout, the plan was for Winder to guard Wilt Chamberlain on a NBC Sports World Special. Chamberlain started his professional career with the Globetrotters before reuniting with Meadowlark Lemon.
But Lemon’s plan changed when Winder’s tryout went so well that he was asked to play with the Bucketeers instead of as an opponent.
“I was in awe — Wilt and Meadowlark had been hanging on my wall all my life and now I had the opportunity to ‘post’ Wilt up,” Winder said. “I got ‘lucky,’ a few times, outquicked him and dunked on him. Seriously? I think that’s what got Meadowlark’s attention.”
Meadowlark asked Winder if he wanted to make sports history, and become the first white player to play comedian basketball alongside him, Wilt Chamberlain and Marques Haynes on Meadowlark Lemon’s Bucketeers.
“Break the color barrier in reverse,” Lemon said with his famous smile.
“I asked Meadow if I had to wear those funky hats and uniforms,” Winder said. “He replied, ‘Yes you do.’ So I did.
Winder, in his early 20s, didn’t really understand what “breaking the color barrier in reverse” meant.
“After breaking that barrier, there were several things to deal with,” Winder said. “Nothing like Jesse Owens or Jackie Robinson by any means, but it was uncomfortable now-and-then.”
Bruce Jenner pinned Winder with the nickname “Blue-Eyed Soul Brother” on Sports World in 1980.
When Wilder played for the Bucketeers, his engaging personality led to appearances on talk shows and TV specials on The Tonight Show, NBC and HBO.
“I became this (odd-to-me) phenom in basketball and some family entertainment circles for a couple of years,” Winder said. “It was a fun ride and I remember those years fondly.”
Winder earned his college of business degree at the University of Texas after competing with the Buckeeters. He began a business career in technology, first working for IBM then building several technology companies that he sold to other large corporations. When he retired from business about 10 years ago, he was running a $300 million, 800-employee organization.
“During my 25 years in technology, I stayed very close to Meadow,” Winder said.
One of Winder’s corporations supplied multi-language, multi-currency enterprise software internationally to half of the Fortune 500 companies. He invited Meadowlark to speak to executives several times.
After retiring from corporate business, Winder operated a small charitable, NFP organization called Adub Studios — predominantly focused on sports photography and videography.
But Winder and Meadowlark never lost touch.
“In 2010, after relentless recruiting by Meadowlark and Cynthia Lemon to run their operations, I went to work for Meadowlark Lemon Ministries directly and now run much of their day-to-day operations,” Winder said. “It’s pretty fulfilling working with Meadowlark Lemon. He knows a network of famous people.”
Winder said Meadowlark was one of the people he looked up to as a young basketball player in Texas. Winder’s father took him to see the Harlem Globebrotters and he never lost that image of men entertaining children through the game of basketball.
A past video clip showed how much Winder respected Lemon’s ability to work with people.
“It’s really beautiful the way that ‘Lark’ treats us all,” Winder said. “He makes me feel right at home. Everyone on this bus is like brothers, a family. It’s a neat way to live. The kids are another really exciting aspect of the game. Laughter is such an important factor in life. It gives you a deep satisfaction that you are out there for them. They can laugh and enjoy it like we enjoy it.”
Explaining Camp Meadowlark
Camp Meadowlark is a series of basketball camps and clinics for young people held all across the country. Most are held in conjunction with a local church or an organization such as the YMCA. Our mission is to teach the fundamentals of basketball and Godly principles. Meadowlark’s focus is to help direct children in a positive way, to let children know they are special, and that God has a plan for their lives. “Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.”
Camp Meadowlark is for boys and girls. It is a complete teaching program to build in youngster’s solid fundamentals and develop specific skills in basketball. Meadowlark also educates the participants on the dangers of substance abuse. At the heart of Meadowlark’s instruction is emphasis of the four major attributes of basketball: spiritual, physical, psychological and social. Meadowlark Lemon Ministries is committed to making sure lack of funds will never prevent a needy child from attending camp.
Youth Prison Work
Meadowlark Lemon Ministries (MLM) has a special heart for young people in prison. We feel that God has anointed us to help these troubled youngster’s so that they can see and experience the love of Jesus Christ. Our hope and intention is that they will never reach adult prisons. At a youth prison in Washington where we recently ministered, nearly all of the prisoners gave their hearts to the Lord.
Youth Drug Awareness
Since being appointed an Ambassador to the White House by Nancy Reagan, as part of her “Just Say No Drug Awareness Program,” Meadowlark Lemon Ministries has been actively helping young people avoid the catastrophe of drug abuse. We use our basketball talents to break down barriers, preparing each talk individually wit the guidance of the local school system. We also incorporate the support of local agencies such as D.A.R.E., M.A.D.D., S.A.D.D., and P.A.L. as well as local police agencies. Our aim is to build trust, understanding and a positive self-image among students, as a fortress against the temptation of drug abuse.
Other ministries are reaching out to Native Americans. We believe that the Meadowlark name and reputation has allowed us to minister to many groups who might be difficult for others to reach. For example, we have access to several Native American reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. There, we help raise funds with comedic games while bringing the Good News of the Gospel to the people. We are now planning a series of Camp Meadowlark basketball camps for the reservations, which are often very poor in facilities and resources.
Health and Fitness
My wife, Dr. Cynthia Lemon, has a double doctorate in nutrition and is now spearheading our new program focused on health and fitness. People always ask me how I can stay so healthy and play basketball and yet be on the road 80% of the time. Now, with Cynthia, I am planning to market the mineral drink I have used for years under the brand name Meadowlark’s Lemon Aid. There will also be a helpful booklet on diet and nutrition, based on scriptural sources. We believe that, as the body of Christ, we need to see ourselves as just that – a body that requires energy and fitness to be of service. The new product and information will benefit many individuals and also help raise funds for our ministries.
New Projects Planned
At Meadowlark Lemon Ministries, we are constantly expanding the scope of our ministry as we discover new needs and new opportunities to serve. Included in our plans for the coming year are a movie based on my life story, two “Songs of Praise” albums, a book and DVD ministry, a new biography currently being written and a bi-monthly newsletter.