Teens, cops hoop it up

BY DANIEL SEIDL | APRIL 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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The sounds of basketball fill the gym, sneakers squeaking and balls hitting the court. A police officer sinks a 3-point shot and an eighth-grade student goes up for a block.

“It’s pretty competitive — the kids just take it seriously,” said Southeast Junior High teacher Michelle Cook. “They can hold their own with the Police Department.”

Cook was the architect of the 3-on-3 with the police program. Each Thursday for the next couple of weeks, eight teams meet at Scanlon Gymnasium, 2701 Bradford Drive, to play basketball. Seven of them are made up of students from Southeast.

The eighth team, though, is not like the rest. The group towers over most of the other players, a few players are beginning to lose their hair, and a couple have wedding bands. The eighth team is made of Iowa City police officers.

Cook said she started the program to give the kids something to do.

“We have a lot of kids who hang out at [Mercer Park] after school,” she said.  “We thought, why not try to create like a six-week 3-on-3 program.”

Cook decided to bring the police into it because her husband, Gabe Cook, is an officer, she said.

“It’s a positive experience not only for me but for them,” he said while waiting on the sideline to be brought in. “[We do] anything we can to have a positive interaction with the youth.”

In addition to building good relationships, Gabe Cook said, the program may help the students make better choices.

“I think it’s tougher for them to make bad choices because they’re held accountable,” he said. “They see us more as people and normal human beings rather than a police officer in a uniform.”

The police officers get paid time off while they’re playing.

Southeast eighth-grader Keyshawn Trice said he wants people to have a good time on the court.

“I just want the whole facility to have a great attitude and just have fun,” he said.

While they were playing, smiles were plastered on many of the students’ and officers’ faces.

Michelle Cook said one thing she has noticed since starting the program is the level of maturity the kids have.

“There’s just a high level of mutual respect,” she said. “You see all of the assets and skills that they have. Sometimes those just aren’t able to come through in the classroom.”

There wasn’t any fighting or arguing on the courts — just good, clean fun.

Mark Sanders, another Southeast eighth-grader, said he joined the program because he enjoys playing basketball.

“I love basketball, and if it’s basketball, I’m always going to do it,” he said. “Playing against older people, it gets you better at basketball.”

While Keyshawn is mostly playing for fun, Mark said he likes to be more competitive, especially with the officers.

“I mostly want to win and have fun at the same time,” he said before going back out onto the court. “We beat [the officers], and they beat us one time. The whole team was playing hard.”

Gabe Cook said there are some students who beat the officers despite their best efforts. While the officers can land some good shots, the students often slip through their defense.

“We didn’t let them win, that’s for sure,” he said. “They’re too good; they’re too quick. I think that’s part of what they like. It gives them the satisfaction of knowing they beat us when we were giving it everything we have.”

While the basketball program will end in a few weeks, Gabe Cook said he hopes they can continue this kind of program with other sports.

“The city and the Police Department has gotten more involved in doing stuff with youth,” he said. “A program like this is something we can keep going.”

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