Youths meet football heroes Reward: Children taking part in Baltimore's Police Athletic League were treated to a day of fun and food at Ravens training camp in Westminster.

August 19, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Nearly 1,000 young eyes marveled at the size of half-pound hamburgers, mountains of chicken wings and Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Tony "The Goose" Siragusa yesterday at the NFL team's training camp in Westminster.

Those wide eyes belonged to youths from 27 Baltimore Police Athletic League centers, which provide activities to keep inner-city children out of trouble.

For most, the 30-mile trip to Western Maryland College was a reward for participation in the PAL program, a chance to chant, "Goose Goose," and slap high-fives with the 6-foot-3, 320-pounder.

Or listen to Benny Thompson, the Ravens' special-teams captain, and Rod Woodson, the projected NFL Hall of Fame cornerback, who spoke briefly about doing well in school and answered myriad questions.

For all, it was a fun day in the dog days of August, cavorting on the lush green grass, basking in the sunshine and smelling the fresh air.

For Derrick Haynes, 13, of Waverly, it was a chance to meet wide receivers Jermaine Lewis and Michael Jackson -- close up and personal -- and shake hands.

Long before a whopping lunch provided by Outback Steakhouse of Maryland and the arrival of the Ravens players, Derrick coolly flipped three straight passes through a basketball-size hole in a canvas target, one of a half-dozen activities in the Ravens' "fun zone."

Derrick plays quarterback for the Waverly PAL center team and seemed to stand as tall as the 40-foot pines behind his target after barely missing a bull's eye on his fourth try.

"The best part is getting to meet the players," he said with a broad grin.

Derrick, like most of the PAL boys and girls, is hooked on athletics, but Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said the "A" in PAL for "athletic" could easily be for "academics."

Frazier instituted the PAL program in Baltimore in March 1995, tapping veteran officers such as Craig Singletary, Lorie Wallace and Vincent Cosom to help start it.

Today, two officers staff each of 27 PAL centers, coordinating the athletic and academic activities for more than 7,500 children ages 7 to 17.

When Thompson spoke of spending five to eight hours a day in the classroom and only two or three on the field, PAL children from the Goodnow Road center in Northeast Baltimore were tuned in. About 100 children in Goodnow's after-school academic enrichment program had to devote one to two hours on studies before being allowed to play table tennis, computer games or basketball, Singletary said.

He said data tracking those 100 children showed a definite improvement as grades in the 70s jumped into the 80s with few exceptions.

Frazier said several Ravens, including defensive end Michael McCrary, regularly stop by PAL centers and mix with the children.

"One young man was recently accepted at UMES [University of Maryland Eastern Shore], and Michael McCrary offered to pay for his books for four years," Frazier said.

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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