Children who showed up unable to toss a ball a few feet learned that two fingers along the seams could send it to the fence. Those who swung wildly at balls floating in midair were taught to line up their knuckles and swing like they meant it.
But no one, it seemed, let the fundamentals of baseball interfered with the fundamentals of fun. And for the officers, the objective was never sports excellence but to win the hearts and minds of children from tough neighborhoods who might see them more as oppressors than public servants.
The Kids ‘n’ Cops camp, in its fifth year, began on Monday and will run through Wednesday at Pompey Park Recreational Center’s baseball field.
The children, ages 6-12, do not pay to attend. The Police Department kicked in a few dollars and a few generous local restaurants provided the food. Some of the campers are the children of local officers.
Officer Rodney Stevenson, a former right hand pitcher for the Montreal Expos, established the camp in 2006 to provide an opportunity for youths who normally wouldn’t get to attend a summer camp and to give youths a positive experience with police.
“[Baseball] is something I know so I thought I would do the camp for them,” said Stevenson, who enlisted the support of a few of his colleagues. “It’s only three days but it’s the first three days after they get out of school. Who knows, maybe it will change their direction.”
Each camp day began with the kids learning the rules of the sport and practicing it until they started to wear down.
They then took a break for lunch where on Monday they were fed a choice of black bean and white or yellow rice, plantain, chicken fingers or barbecued chicken wings. Today, they had hamburgers, cheese burgers and hot dogs. Smoothies, pizza and other goodies are on the menu for today.
As the aspiring athletes walked through the food line, the officers took the opportunity to offer a lesson in etiquette.
“The proper way is, ‘No, thank you’ or ‘Yes please,’” Lt. Scott Privitera told a few campers.
Just before the campers returned to the field for a game, the officers taught them about issues they should be aware of, such as seat-belt and gun safety and manners.
The Kids ‘n’ Cops baseball camp is one of several initiatives the police department sponsors to foster relations in the community. On July 8, officers will participate in the 8th Annual Youth Crime Prevention Day at Village Academy. Several hundred students from across the county are expected to attend the daylong event, where they will learn techniques on how to stay safe and prevent crime.
Reach C. Ron Allen at email@example.com or 561-665-0151.