At-risk children get taste of college life at UMCP

F irst-time offenders spend day with Terp athletes

April 17, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The Colonial columns and sweeping greenswards of the University of Maryland are a world away from the tough corners of Baltimore County's west side -- but the two were joined yesterday for a few hours at an innovative event for children at risk.

A dozen middle school pupils -- first-time offenders in a Baltimore County police-run program -- were among 125 children who attended the seventh National Student-Athlete Day at College Park. They were paired with college athletes for five hours of tours, games, speeches and a box lunch.

Hopes and dreams came along for the ride, too.

"I want to get in there," said a Woodlawn girl, nose pressed against the glass separating her from four Olympic-sized swimming pools in the campus recreation center.

That, it turns out, is the point organizers hoped to get across -- getting in the pool means getting into college first.

"We wanted to give a message to kids to stay in school," said Donn Davis, who organized the event at College Park. "Many of the kids have never seen this campus."

Davis, a Maryland graduate and the president-elect of the university's Criminology Alumni Chapter, recently retired from the Department of Juvenile Justice. He said the Student Athlete Day began with a handful of children he supervised from Prince George's County and has expanded to the 125 children from four counties who participated this year.

Alumni clubs, the university and several corporate sponsors joined forces to provide box lunches and T-shirts for the children who participated. Members of the university's athletic teams volunteered to serve as tour guides and referees. Davis said the event cost about $1,500.

"It's good for these kids to see what's here and that it's accessible," said Mark Metzger, the coordinator for youth-community resources in the Baltimore County Police Department.

That message was pounded home by several Maryland athletes who spoke to the children after lunch in the Reckord Armory.

"Whatever you want to do, no one should be able to tell you `you can't do this -- you're too short, you're too tall, you're too stupid.' Don't let anyone put any limits on you," said Duane Simpkins, who was a starting point guard for the Terps from 1993 to 1996 and has come back to complete his college education.

Simpkins and other athletes -- including current students who took the children on tours of dorms, the student union, the recreation center and the campus -- urged the children to stay in school.

The Baltimore County students appeared somewhat awed at first, walking diffidently through dorm rooms and weight rooms and asking no questions. But their indifference began to crumble when they walked into the armory for lunch, and their voices ricocheted around the four basketball courts as they lined up to shoot baskets, play soccer and skip rope after lunch.

"It doesn't take a lot of money to help kids," said Davis, as he watched the children at play. "It just takes time and a little effort."

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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