600 youngsters join teams as police-sponsored teen athletic programs return

September 28, 1994|By Peter Hermann and Joel Obermayer | Peter Hermann and Joel Obermayer,Sun Staff Writers

The players huddled, alternately tugging on their beige T-shirts and listening to their coach dish out last-minute advice. Parents seated in wooden risers across the gymnasium yelled words of encouragement. In unison, the squad yelled "teamwork" and the point guards brought the basketball out for the start of the first game at Lake Clifton-Eastern High in Northeast Baltimore last night.

The game was one of more than a dozen at four Baltimore schools, marking the official rebirth of city Police Department-sponsored teen athletic programs halted two years ago because of budget cuts.

"You hear a lot of bad things about the police, and this program is about letting them know there are two sides," said veteran Northern District Officer Wiley Fair, watching Baltimore Police Youth Basketball League play.

"The same kids who come and play for me come and ask me about school problems, about home problems and about street problems," he said.

"It's a definite void," said Maj. Bernard Harper, commander of the sex offense/child abuse unit who is spearheading the program. "We hope this is the beginning."

The major, who used to run the department's youth programs, said Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier plans to start a broader police athletic league, in which the nine district commanders each can run their own programs.

The basketball league kicked off with mini-games on the weekend, but formal play started last night at the Polytechnic Institute, Mergenthaler and Walbrook high schools, in addition to Lake Clifton-Eastern.

All games are scheduled between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and some Saturdays of each week until Oct. 22. Male and female players between ages 11 and 18 are eligible.

"We're getting kids from all over," Major Harper said, adding that 60 teams and 600 teen-agers are involved.

Police encouraged community organizations to sign up teams and provide coaches, though 10 police officers are helping out.

One of them, Officer Fair, recruited teens from the Govans community, "where they are having problems" with crime, the major said.

Officer Fair said youngsters in the league's age range are those most at risk of becoming involved in crime.

But it was hard to imagine 14-year-old player Joseph Miller getting caught up in crime -- between basketball and homework, there's not much time for getting into trouble.

He said he plays basketball four or five hours a day, "rain or shine," but only after finishing his Roland Park Middle School work in such courses as algebra, geometry and German.

Although he can slam-dunk a basketball, Joseph said he wants to become an architect. "Basketball really isn't a guarantee. If you don't make it, you don't have anything to fall back on," the youth said.

But more to the point of the police-sponsored league, he observed, "If you do something productive, you stay out of trouble with the law."

Police said teens can still join the program, which can accommodate up to 1,000 youths.

For more information, call your local police district or contact the Mayoral Hub Station at 396-6393.

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