It wasn’t the Lakers or the Clippers, but the kids playing on the Staples Center Court were still superstars to the family members and supporters who were cheering them on.
So were the members of the Pasadena police and fire departments who matched up against Pasadena middle school youth for a charity basketball game at Staples Center on March 13.
Officials from Pasadena PD, the fire department and a local middle school had more than just basketball in mind when they organized the game, which was the highlight of several hoops sessions between public safety and the youngsters.
“We want the police and fire department to know our kids from the time they are little to the time they become adults and just good citizens,” said Kyle Douglas, principal of Wilson Middle School, and one of the game’s organizers. “The whole purpose is just to build that bond and just make it about good vibes and fun.”
Douglas and other youth leaders originally approached Pasadena PD, with the idea for officers and fire fighters to spend a day interacting with students on the basketball court as a way to build bridges between youth and law enforcement, said Michelle White, Pasadena PD park safety specialist.
Public safety went one better, White said, committing to having the police and fire spend five two-hour blocks of time on the basketball court with the youngsters.
“We want them to know that the first responders support their community,” White said.
The interactions began in February, when Pasadena public safety personnel visited Wilson Middle School for a coaching session.
The kids and the adults got together a couple of more times, leading up to the Staples Center event, where family members and supporters paid $25 a ticket to watch the Pasadena Elite travel ball team take on a team of Pasadena police and fire personnel.
The proceeds went to summer programs at Wilson Middle School.
Officers interacting with kids in a non-law enforcement setting benefits both groups, said Pasadena Police Chief John Perez, who sat courtside for the event.
“The more young people can get to know our police officers and fire fighters and really have a connection with them, as they grow up, either they want to go into the profession or they feel they are someone they can depend on,” Chief Perez said. “And that really helps even our own confidence as police and fire fighters to know that people really do support us and connect with us.”
Alfred Burns, program director and coach with Pasadena Elite, said activities involving the public safety and youngster are a good way to shatter preconceived opinions by both groups.
“You always hear about the negatives with the police department and the negatives with children,” Burns said. “The purpose of this event is to do something to bridge the gap of having a positive experience rather than a negative experience. We want the police to know our kids by name.”
At least one parent agreed.
Megan Clarke, whose son Desmond plays for Pasadena Elite and attends Wilson Middle School, said children are sometimes scared off the police.
“They (the kids) see their faces, so if they see them in uniforms, it’s not as scary when they interact with them,” Clarke said.
Pasadena Elite player William Esnault, 14, was impressed with the skill displayed by the public safety team on the basketball court.
“It was cool to know that they can actually hoop and they are not just policemen,” said Esnault, an 8th grader at Holy Family School in South Pasadena. “The take away that police officers are great and they care about us and they like to support the community.”
The kids and public safety officers will get together for a final series of games on April 13 at Robinson Park.