WATCH NOW: Dennis Bedford and Gary Vargas honored for work in community with at-risk youth | High School

The casual bystander who attended the annual Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic late last month, a four-day high school basketball bonanza at Carthage’s Tarble Arena, marveled at alley-oop dunks, dazzling behind-the-back dribbling and pinpoint long-range shooting.

What that person may not have noticed is that one — or maybe even several — of those talented basketball players were once in a bad spot in school, or even with the law, and needed help.

Men like Dennis Bedford and Gary Vargas have long been there for such kids in the Kenosha community.

So on the opening night of the classic, Dec. 27, Bedford and Vargas weren’t at Tarble Arena just to watch some exciting basketball. They got a chance to see the fruits of their labor and were honored for their dedication to the community.

Bedford and Vargas are like brothers, and they’ve worked together on and off for 40 years with at-risk kids in the community through a multitude of organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha and the Kenosha Unified School District.

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On that Monday night at Carthage, Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic co-director John Lynn gave out two Go Sports America Lifetime Achievement Awards to Bedford and Vargas before that night’s final game between the St. Joseph and Bradford boys basketball teams.

Suddenly, the guys that do most of their work behind the scenes were standing at center court.

Working with families

“We are fortunate,” Lynn said in front of a packed crowd at center court in Tarble Arena. “Both are legends in a lot of peoples’ books. But I think the biggest thing is that they leave a huge legacy.”

Vargas, a Racine native, thanked the City of Kenosha for welcoming him into the “family.”

“Thank you, Kenosha, for allowing me to be a big part of your families here in Kenosha,” said Vargas, as he and Bedford stood side by side on the arena’s “C” logo. “Everything I’ve done would not be possible without my brother here, Dennis, who kind of welcomed me to Kenosha and introduced me to many of the families that we’ve worked with over the years.”

Vargas then handed the microphone to Bedford, who first thanked Lynn.

Bedford said he spent 40-plus years grinding for Kenosha, a place he loves and never really wanted to leave.

“It wasn’t an accident,” Bedford said. “Kenosha is one of the most progressive, greatest places to work. It’s a beautiful city. I had many opportunities to go elsewhere — Milwaukee, you name it — but there’s no way I would leave this great city.

“It’s a whole lot easier working with young people and families when you have other people working with you. Gary and I spent many days and nights tag-teaming with families. Collaboration with all the different agencies is still going on. It’s one of the greatest places in the world, because we work together. To all those that are in the trenches, schools, teaching, coaches, people doing outreach work in the community, stay encouraged. Our young people need you.

“Even in this crazy, tough time. Don’t lose faith. They need you to keep encouraging them and giving them hope for the future.”

Bedford also said he recently took some time to “reset his life.” A of people call that retirement, but his work is never done.

“I continue to work with Kenosha,” Bedford said. “Those kids don’t go away, even as they get older. There’s been a lot of them that I’ve continued to work with. I won’t stop.”

After the ceremony, Bedford spoke in the front entrance of Tarble Arena about how much the annual Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic means to the area.

“This tournament is a God-send,” Bedford said. “It’s a reunion for us to come and see the young kids. John and a few other people put endless work into this. I had kids on just about every team the last time I came (in 2019), kids I worked with.”

Labor of love

Vargas feels the same way about the community as Bedford.

He’s poured his heart and soul into the community, and any chance to be around his “brother” Dennis is relished.

“It’s a very good feeling, but more importantly, being recognized with my brother,” Vargas said. “I’m from Racine, he’s from Kenosha (Vargas now lives in Paddock Lake). I’ve been here since (19)85.

“I’ve worked with at-risk kids at Bradford and with some of the toughest families, with the biggest needs, and it’s rewarding watching them come back and doing some positive things. I think that’s a big thing.”

Vargas joked that he doesn’t do it for the paycheck. It’s a labor of love.

“You have to have a passion for it and give people a chance to right some wrongs,” he said. “To be able to give some of those opportunities is very rewarding.”

Vargas said he’s getting close to retirement, but he believes there’s still a lot more work to be done.

“We’re not going away,” Vargas said as he and Bedford laughed.

One of Vargas’ proudest accomplishments, he said, was starting the Gang Task Force in Kenosha. He also enjoys and is proud of training new people into the business and working to send many kids to college.

“When we have former clients come into the business, finishing school and now working with kids, who were one of our kids, that’s one of our biggest achievements,” Vargas said.

A lasting message from Vargas is that help is always there, no matter what.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he said. “There’s a number of agencies that are willing to assist you, but sometimes they don’t come to you. If they reach out, people will assist them.”

Giving kids options

Bedford, meanwhile, said aside from any accomplishments, he worked with the Kenosha County court system early in his career. At the time, Vargas worked with an outreach agency.

“We would get these kids, and we’d try to redirect them,” Bedford said. “I’ve had some kids that were really deep into the gangs. They came here entrenched in it. I had a little 9-year-old as hard as I don’t know what. Put in the gang by his family at six years old.

“We tried to give them other options other than the criminal system. The rewarding part is you see a lot of them come back and do the same thing we’re doing. We’d just give them something to do to prevent them from joining gangs.”

From college trips to after-school activities to sports, Bedford and Vargas showed a different way, something positive to strive for.

“People used to give up on these kids and just write them off,” Bedford said. “At 15 years old, come on. Kids would have a track record, and judges, police, etc., would give up. But then you see these kids change. Because they say, ‘Nobody ever believed in me like you guys.’

“A light goes on, and they turn it around.”

Bedford said his childhood was strict, and that helped shape what he valued.

“I had a Christian mom, and she stayed on us,” he said. “And my dad would take our head off. I watched it. I watched it go around.

“I started in business, and at age 19, I saw a community center for all ages and I was like, ‘Dang, what is this? What is social work?’ I grew up in the KYF (Kenosha Youth Foundation), that’s all we had, and it just had great people that were doing the same thing.

“As I got older, I realized this is my purpose. As my mom said, the good Lord directed me. From a spiritual standpoint, I know who I really work for.”

Bedford added that he can’t leave, because “these kids never left me.”

“I don’t see bad kids,” he said. “I want to peel back the onion and see the cause.”

IN PHOTOS: Day 1 of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s Will Starks shoots over Burlington’s JR Lukenbill during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Demons won, 41-24.



Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s Tyler Thompson (24) goes up for a shot in traffic while being surrounded by Burlington’s Connor Roffers (2), Benjamin Graham (12) and Tommy Teberg (23) during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Demons won, 41-24.



Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s Dontrell Graise puts up a shot against Burlington during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Demons won, 41-24.



Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s Will Starks, left, puts up a shot while being defended by Burlington’s Connor Roffers, center, and Ashton Hensley, right, during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Demons won, 41-24.



Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s Cash Raethke (1) dribbles near midcourt as teammate Will Starks (3) follows the action and Burlington’s Benjamin Graham (12) and Jack Sulik (42) defend during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Demons won, 41-24.



Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s Jalani Hudnall brings the ball up the court against Burlington on Monday during the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena.



Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s DeJuan Graise looks to maneuver against Burlington during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Demons won, 41-24.



Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper vs. Burlington

Tremper’s Carson Nye goes up for a shot against Burlington during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Demons won, 41-24.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph’s Andrew Alia, left, puts up a shot over Bradford’s Keany Parks on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game during the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. Caiden Lecce scored 18 points to lead the Lancers to a 56-43 victory over the Red Devils to conclude the first day of the classic.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

Bradford’s Keviyon Price tries to block a shot against St. Joseph on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game during the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. Caiden Lecce scored 18 points to lead the Lancers to a 56-43 victory over the Red Devils to conclude the first day of the classic. Price led Bradford with 21 points.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph’s Caiden Lecce (4) dribbles against the defense of Bradford’s Keviyon Price (15) on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game during the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. Lecce scored 18 points to lead the Lancers to a 56-43 victory over the Red Devils to conclude the first day of the classic. Price led Bradford with 21 points.



Shoreland Lutheran vs. Reuther

Shoreland Lutheran vs. Reuther

Reuther’s Damien Allen, left, looks to move the ball as Shoreland Lutheran’s Soren Smith defends during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Pacers won, 67-35.



Shoreland Lutheran vs. Reuther

Shoreland Lutheran vs. Reuther

Shoreland Lutheran’s Kamare Evans, left, passes off to teammate Nolan Krueger, right, as Reuther’s Jamarie Osbourne, second from left, and Jermarion Jones, second from right, defend during a non-conference boys basketball game Monday on the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Pacers won, 67-35.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph’s Andrew Alia, left, starts the break as Bradford’s Keviyon Price gets back on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game to conclude the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won, 56-43.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

Bradford’s Keviyon Price, left, and Jared Barden get into a defensive position against St. Joseph on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game to conclude the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won, 56-43.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph’s Andrew Alia (21) reacts to a call as Bradford’s Keviyon Price (15) and Jamisen Young (13) and St. Joseph’s Saveion Weatherford (2) look on Monday night during the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won beat Bradford, 56-43, on Monday and Tremper, 78-41, on Thursday to finish 2-0 in the classic.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph’s Saveion Weatherford goes up for a shot against Bradford on Monday night during the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won that game and then on Thursday cruised past Tremper, 78-41, to conclude the classic and finish 2-0 on the week.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

Bradford’s Keviyon Price, left, looks to go up for a shot against the defense of St. Joseph’s Andrew Alia on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game to conclude the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won, 56-43.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph’s Eric Kenesie, left, defends Bradford’s Jamisen Young on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game to conclude the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won, 56-43.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

Bradford’s Keviyon Price, second from right, puts the ball on the floor against the defense of St. Joseph’s Matt Schulte, left, on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game to conclude the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won, 56-43.



St. Joseph vs. Bradford

St. Joseph vs. Bradford

Bradford’s Kameron Lakes brings the ball up the floor against St. Joseph on Monday night in a non-conference boys basketball game to conclude the first day of the Doctors of Physical Therapy Holiday Classic at Carthage’s Tarble Arena. The Lancers won, 56-43.



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