Youth participate in this year's Wilson Police Athletic League football camp held at Fike High School. The camp, which is free for youth, lasts all week and includes cheerleading camp for girls.
Olivia Neeley | Times
By Olivia Neeley
Times Staff Writer
Antavious Riggins was ready to hustle.
The 8-year-old has spent the past several days tightening up on his football skills.
“We do all kinds of stuff — catching, running, throwing,” he said.
Antavious wasn’t the only one having a blast Thursday during the week-long football camp hosted by the Wilson Police Athletic League. The PAL program hosts a variety of free athletic camps for community youth throughout the year. Since Monday, more than 200 youth have participated in the football and cheerleading camps combined.
And this is the biggest turnout they’ve had in the history of the camp, police said.
“The police department’s annual football camp is a premier youth football camp,” said Maj. Craig Smith, adding that youth learn eight specific football skills.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we work both offense and defense on those skills,” Smith said. On Thursday, participants formulated their flag football teams and played throughout Thursday afternoon.
But the big treat is Friday when the championship games will be played.
“It’s three days of intense skills training and now its all about them showing us they learned from those skills and applying it through flag football,” Smith said.
And Deshaun Gordon, 14, couldn’t agree more.
“This week has given me a lot of experience about football and where I want to go in my future,” Deshaun said. He also said the camp gives him time to hang out with the coaches, who are police department personnel.
Smith said the girls have spent the first part of the week learning cheerleading fundamentals at Toisnot Middle School. On Friday, the girls will be assigned to individual teams to show off their new skills.
“It’s going to be a real football experience all day (Friday),” Smith said.
POSITIVELY DEVELOPING YOUTH
The PAL program, which secured its nonprofit status more than a year ago, continues to expand its offerings, which include tennis, soccer, softball, volleyball and baseball.
Officials say since school has gotten out, the Wilson Police Department’s PAL board is making a conscious effort to keep children as busy as possible throughout the summer.
Next week, PAL coordinators will start all over again when they hold their softball camp. They’ve already had 75 girls sign up — another record-breaking attendance. The following week, PAL will hold baseball camp.
Wilson Police Chief Thomas Hopkins said he was extremely proud of this year’s football and cheerleading camps.
“We had a great time interacting with our kids in the community,” Hopkins said. “This year, we have seen two of our most successful camps.”
The camps, which are for ages 9 to 14, aren’t designed just for athletics alone. Youth learn life skills and have a chance to get to know the police officers in their community.
“We encourage police-citizen partnerships to strengthen lasting relationships in the community,” Hopkins said. “We encourage and promote police-youth programs to achieve greater interaction and communication with police and kids in our community. The administration of justice is a total community responsibility and I believe our programs and partnerships have an impact on crime prevention and can have positive effects on the crime rate.”
Smith said this type of positive interaction shows children and teens that police care about them.
“If we are ever going to save our youth, these are the ages most critical to reach out to now,” Smith said.
MORE THAN FOOTBALL
Maj. Scott Biddle could only describe this week’s camp as awesome — not only for the youth, but for police, too.
“You see the smiles on the kids’ faces,” Biddle said “There, all the pressures of growing up and the things they deal with day-to-day, it’s gone. They are having fun playing football.”
Smith said keeping youth busy during the summer months is another way to keep them away from mischief and a way for the officers to mentor youth while having a bit of fun.
Twelve-year-old Zion Dickens has loved the week-long camp.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “It’s like running around like a little kid out here.”
But he did want to share other aspects of his life that police officers have helped him with.
“I’ve learned how to be respectful and not get into fights,” he said. “I used to get into fights. We learn how to control our anger and we learn how to be respectful to each other.”
Zion said there are some countries who don’t have police departments that are this caring about youth and believe in helping others.
“It’s amazing,” he said with a smile.
Dozens of volunteers from BB&T have also helped out throughout the week.
“They have provided as many as 40 volunteers to assist us,” Smith said. “This has enabled us to use all our personnel out here and concentrate on the skills and football with the kids. All the things we would normally have to commit officers to do, they did the job.”
Hopkins said the success of these camps would not have been possible without the support of the Wilson community, parents and volunteers.
The camps also feed youth breakfast and lunch . And that can add up with more than 200 participants attending each day. Several groups and businesses have helped out with food this week including Italian Pizza and Subs and the Rotary Club of Greater Wilson, which also supports the program financially.
The city of Wilson staff and Parks and Recreation have also made this week’s camp possible.
“We want to thank everyone in our community for the support of our police-sponsored programs,” Hopkins said.
To donate to Wilson’s Police Athletic League, contact the Wilson Police Department at 252-399-2323 or send a check to the department at 120 Goldsboro St. E, Wilson, NC 27893 with “Police Athletic League” in the memo line.