Program brings officers, middle schoolers together

BY RYAN COLE | JANUARY 19, 2011 7:10 AM

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A small group of local junior-high students gathered around a uniformed policeman at a pool table Tuesday afternoon, watching in quiet awe as he sank the eight ball in a corner pocket. A passing student, curious, asked what they were doing.

“Watching a cop win,” one young boy said bluntly.

The banter may have been bleak, but the atmosphere was playful as local students battled Iowa City police Officer Greg Humrichouse in games of pool, foosball, and carpetball.

Their goal? To win a can of soda.

The “Beat a Cop, Win a Pop,” program meets twice a week after school from January through March in the Mercer Aquatic Center, 2701 Bradford Drive. Though students earn a free soft drink if they win a game, organizers said the interaction is rewarding in more substantial ways.

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Matt Eidahl, program supervisor for the center, created the program to keep students active during winter, when schools typically offer fewer extracurricular activities. But the games also open a healthy dialogue between adolescents and law-enforcement officers.

“It’s a good chance to have positive interaction with youngsters,” Humrichouse said. “It shows them we’re human.”

The program began six years ago but collapsed quickly because of a lack of funds. Hoping to revive his idea, Eidahl appealed to the Community Foundation of Johnson County in October, which gave him a $2,000 grant last week.

Six years ago, students played against Mercer staff, but now they can afford to hire an officer.

Officers who volunteer at the program are paid overtime.

Eidahl agreed exposure to law enforcement was important for area youth.

“It’s a great chance for them to see the police officers in a different setting,” he said.

The first game of pool on Tuesday revealed how different this setting was for Humrichouse, a University of Iowa graduate and 18-year veteran of the local force. He scratched when breaking the rack, and he sent the cue ball skittering off the table and onto the floor on his second shot.

“Ping-Pong is my game,” he said after a tough loss.

His opponent, Southeast student Nasim Salih, didn’t hear Humrichouse’s excuses — he had already headed off for his free soda.

Humrichouse extended his losing streak to three games before improving and coming out on top against Emmanuel Hooper, an eighth-grade student at Southeast.

“He’s really good at angles,” Hooper said after the match.

Around 15 students came and went between 3:15 and 5:15 p.m. While this year has been slow, Eidahl said the program drew between 40 and 50 students a day six years ago.

For now, Eidahl is focused on ensuring the future of the program, and said he believes it will continue to grow.

“We’ll continue to seek funding,” Eidahl said, noting finances are a recurring priority.

Humrichouse also said he hopes the program continues, though perhaps for other reasons.

“I want a rematch,” the officer said.

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