Page 56 - FOP May 2019 Magazine
P. 56

The Westside Series
Police and youth conference guarantees a win for all involved
■ BY AMBER RAMUNDO what makes the Westside Sports confer-
 A hitter from a neighborhood baseball team steps up to the plate at Garfield Park. The stands are full, and the bases are loaded. A young slugger gets a quick pep talk from his coaches before step- ping into the batter’s box. One pitch is all it takes for the player to send the ball fly- ing over the fence. The crowd goes wild and teammates howl from the dugout as the player rounds the bases.
Scenes like this describe far more than a big hit when it comes to the Chicago Westside Sports Police & Youth Sports Conference, which began play with its baseball season on May 4 across the West Side of Chicago. This venture from community policing officers in the 10th, 11th, 15th and 25th districts makes it so that every play, practice, triumph or de- feat hits it out of the park for the commu- nities in which these games are played. Players and coaches on these teams make up more than just a roster; they are a foundation of stronger, brighter and more connected neighborhoods across the city.
“The sports itself is merely just a ve- hicle to get everyone together out there doing some type of task,” explains 15th District CAPS Officer Jermaine Harris, who spearheaded the effort to have offi- cers and other leaders in the community work together in order to offer youth a cost-free schedule of sports and activi- ties to participate in year-round.
The Westside Sports Conference start- ed three years ago when the 15th and 10th District officers began coaching a youth baseball league in their neigh-
borhoods. Harris could clearly see the benefit of having law enforcement work with kids in a recreational environment. And each time parents asked Harris what activities were available for their chil- dren to participate in after school, Harris wondered if the District’s baseball league could blossom into a bigger initiative that multiple communities could benefit from in numerous ways.
“We decided to use the sports piece as a means to get kids involved,” Harris shares. “The kids who join the confer- ence join a network of resources in the community. It’s about creating access to support and involvement.”
The Chicago Westside Sports Police & Youth Sports Conference developed into a program that now encompasses the four neighboring districts on the West Side of Chicago: 010, 011, 015 and 025. The program offers a variety of sports from baseball to archery to basketball and volleyball, free of charge to any child in grades 3 through 8. Besides the vari- ety of activities and level of accessibility,
ence stand out is the network of coaches that work together. Each team is led by a triumverate of CPD officers, members from community organizations and in- dividuals from faith-based institutions. The program has also partnered with the City of Refuge, an organization that works to strengthen connections within neighborhoods.
“This is a chance for everyone to work together using this sports piece to ac- complish a greater goal,” Harris says. “Everyone is doing a little piece. It’s noth- ing major, but they all add up to some- thing huge.”
When Harris introduced the Westside Sports initiative to Daniel Allen, an offi- cer in 011 who is also a baseball enthusi- ast, he welcomed the opportunity to get back on the field with open arms. Allen has coached in a youth baseball league in years past, but it’s obvious to him that the Westside Sports conference is far big- ger than baseball.
“It’s one thing for youth to experience the police engaging with them, but now they get to see us engaging with mem- bers of the community as well,” Allen notes. “It gives it more substance.”
It’s not all about the bases, though. Of- ficer William Martinez from 015 works diligently to make sure that as soon as baseball and archery season is over, the athletes are ready to transition onto the basketball courts. For Martinez, the Westside Sports conference is a place where the boundaries between neigh- borhoods can be broken down by pro- viding a safe space for kids of all ages and
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