Dozens of off-duty Santa Ana police detectives played in a charity basketball tournament at Wintersburg Presbyterian Church to raise money for the department’s Explorer program, reuniting teams largely isolated by the pandemic over the last two years.
Investigations Commander Jose Gonzalez was on the court as a member of the team fielded by the Special Investigations Detail. He enthusiastically endorsed a detective’s interest in launching a Santa Ana police basketball tournament.
“We’ve all been cooped up. Everyone has been,” Gonzalez said. “The moment those restrictions lifted everyone was starved to get back out there.”
Continuing this new team-building event is important considering the social climate in which many police departments have found themselves, Gonzalez said.
“The sentiment that with everything going on with law enforcement right now, with the extreme scrutiny, it would be great to get together and enjoy some camaraderie,” Gonzalez said.
Although he identifies as more of a football player, the 23-year Santa Ana police veteran donned a purple jersey with “Chente” emblazoned across the back.
This year the tournament expanded to include players from Santa Ana’s Special Investigations Unit, Quality of Life Team, Directed Patrol, Internal Affairs, and the Chief of Police’s Office. Santa Ana police professional staff and Orange County Probation Officers also joined the competition.
The Chief of Police’s Office team was led by Sgt. Maria Lopez, public information officer and former San Francisco State basketball player, and went on to claim the Station 31 Invitational Trophy. Despite her collegiate skills, Lopez said she experienced some trouble in the first game playing with a ball that was sized for men’s hands. She overcame that handicap and held the tournament trophy during a team photo.
Proceeds raised by the tournament will support Explorers’ various programs and activities. These high school students often need help paying for uniforms, travel to regional events, and meals during evening events.
“Our Explorer program is the pipeline into our organization and they’re the future of law enforcement,” Gonzalez said.
The tournament was more than just an opportunity for officers to show off their free throw skills to colleagues.
“I think that’s the nice part of being able to step away. Everyone here is part of a unit,” Lopez said. “Events like these bring us together as a team and as a department as a whole.”
Lopez particularly enjoyed watching younger and older officers mix it up in the church gymnasium. Although the vast majority of the players have been with the department for years, some were just getting to put names and faces together for the first time.
Plans are already underway for the Santa Ana Police Department’s next basketball tournament to benefit the local chapter of the Police Activities League.