For the past five years, Dollarway High School football coach Cortez Lee has given up his spring break to do something he enjoys.
Lee has been the head coach for the Pine Bluff Police Department’s annual Baseball and Softball Camp, which kicked off Monday and ends Friday.
“I love kids and I love teaching and this is an opportunity for me to try and teach these kids something,” Lee said.
He said he became involved in the camp because he had friends in the department “who knew I played baseball in college, and who asked me if I would be interested in helping out.”
While the emphasis is on improving baseball and softball skills, Lee said the camp is also “about having fun.”
The first three days of the camp were conducted at Regional Park but police Sgt. David Vilches said Thursday the department moved the final two days to the arena of the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
“There was rain in the forecast and we didn’t want all these kids to get soaking wet,” Vilches said.
One of the main goals of the camp, in addition to providing a safe place for kids to enjoy themselves, is to show the young people a different side of police officers.
“Most everything you hear about police is always negative and we want to show them a positive side,” Vilches said.
In addition to instruction in baseball and softball, he said the kids receive instruction on a variety of subjects, including showing respect for others, saying no to bullying and communicating with others.
“We had 140 kids sign up Monday and they’re all still with us,” Vilches said Thursday morning. “We’ve got a variety of kids from all over and some of them are not natural-born athletes but the coaches are trying to work with all of them.”
Vilches is assigned to the department’s Community Relations Division, along with Lt. Shirley Warrior and Officer Melissa Johnson. The camp over spring break is just one of the events that the division conducts.
“We have an annual basketball camp, and a big event at Halloween,” Vilches said. “Everything we do is community-oriented.”
Thursday afternoon was designated as “Fun Day” for the campers, with bounce houses, cotton candy and popcorn, to be followed by an awards ceremony Friday.
“We will have awards for the top athletes, for most improved, sportsmanship, and a lot more,” Vilches said.
In addition to police officers, Vilches said events like the annual camp “could not happen without the help of our volunteers.”