Austin police officers teach kids basketball and life lessons
Elementary school students are learning the fundamentals of basketball from Austin police officers.
"When you get the ball, dribble. Don't forget to dribble,” said one of the coaches.
Tuesday, the Police Activities League of Austin held a basketball camp to teach boys third through fifth grade.
"There you go. Keep trying. Keep trying,” said another coach.
"We're offering these kids free, healthy things to do,” said Senior Police Officer Jeremy Bohannon.
The organization is a nonprofit through the Austin Police Department, where they hope to connect with the community.
"We want to reach out to the youth and let them know that they can interact with us in a safe, positive environment,” said Senior Police Officer Angela Johnson.
"I was like whaaaat [sic], so cool,” said fourth-grader Aiden Gonzalez.
"Really excited to be here,” said third-grader Yoyo Wang.
While Aiden and Yoyo were happy to see the officers, not all children feel that way.
"The kids -- they won't know how to act around us once they find out we're officers. We've had kids cry in the past,” said Bohannon.
"Some home environments may not encourage or support the relationship with police officers, so it is important to know that we are here. Our first primary job is to serve and protect, and we're going to do that,” said Johnson.
"If you allow the kids to create their own imagination on how they feel about us, sometimes it may not be good,” said Bohannon. "Usually they see us: we may be taking someone from their community away, or something bad is happening. So we want to get them, let them see us in a positive light, see that we're actually here to support them, that we care about them. We care about our community."
But that's what they're working on at the camp: creating a common bond.
"Seeing that we're people, and we're just like them, and we care about them. ... We talk just like they talk, and we do the same things they do,” said Bohannon. "Letting them now that we care about them, and we care about what they say and what they think."
"It will break down barriers or maybe some stereotypes that they thought existed, and they're like, 'You know what, they're not so bad. They're people too,'” said Johnson.
"If we can connect with them, a lot of times it's a lot easier for us to talk to them about life, talk to them about respect, talk to them about bullying,” said Bohannon.
They’re not only teaching lessons on how to make the shot but also how to handle it when you miss.
"This is an opportunity for the kids to have. They're learning skills, but they're also learning some life skills, conflict resolution, building trust with police officers. And although we're not in uniform, they're aware that we're police officers. ... So that when they do see us on the street or other police officers, they know that we're somebody they can trust," said Johnson.
For some, it's a chance to find the role model they're searching for.
"I know there's going to be men cops, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to speak with them,” said Gonzalez.
"This is an opportunity for a lot of these single-parent homes, where kids can come and have that interaction," said Johnson.
Johnson said it creates not only a belief in officers but also in themselves.
"A lot of them have never played basketball, and probably didn't even think they had it in them. But at the end of the day, they can say, 'You know, I did this,'” said Johnson.
And for many of these kids, they remember who helped them get there.
"If you're in trouble, you could ask them to help you,” said Gonzalez.
"It's fun to see that, and see how just one positive encounter can change a whole kid's perspective,” said Bohannon.
This is actually the first boys camp the Police Activities League of Austin has hosted.
They've held a few girls camps in the past. The next one of those is scheduled for March.