Braden Richardson, 7, keeps his eyes on the ball before taking a big swing as Pine Bluff police officer and coach Joseph O’Neal observes the action Wednesday afternoon during the 3rd annual Pine Bluff Police Department Baseball/Softball Camp held at the Convention Center due to inclement weather. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Ralph Fitzgerald)
More than 100 young people gathered at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on a rainy Wednesday morning to learn the basics of baseball and softball on the first day of a three day camp sponsored by the Pine Bluff Police Department.
PBPD Sgt. Lynn Wright, who helped to coordinate the event, said that it was intended as a way to give children ages six to 15 an opportunity to participate in an organized activity during spring break.
“We are providing them with leadership on what teamwork is about,” Wright said. “We are also trying to enhance the relationship between the community and the police department. The kids we have here are kids who have not had any kind of baseball training for the most part.”
Wright said that 120 students from the Dollarway, Watson Chapel and Pine Bluff school districts were taking part in the camp that goes through Friday afternoon.
“We started out this morning with opening ceremonies,” Wright said. “We started out with stretching just like a real baseball team. We are teaching them the basic functions of catching, fielding and batting. We will have a competition at the end of the camp and will give out awards for first, second and third places in each age group.”
“We are also feeding them lunch every day,” Wright said.
PBPD Lt. Shirley Warrior said that a major goal of the camp is instilling a sense of respect for others and for themselves in the participants that will transfer from the ball field to everyday life.
“Over these three days we are really trying to mentor these kids,” Warrior said. “We give them lectures every day on topics that include respect, discipline, the importance of an education, bullying and drugs. We are trying to demonstrate that the police are not bad guys. We are trying to show that the police can be approached.”
Warrior said that the camp and others like it that are sponsored by the department have already shown positive results.
“Some of the kids, if they see our officers that they have interacted with before out in public will run up and hug them,” Warrior said. “We have received lots of positive feedback from the kids and from their parents.”
Dollarway Coach Cortez Lee is teaching the fundamentals of the sport for a second year.
“I realize the importance of our kids having something to do when they are off,” Lee said. “As a person who deals with kids this is something I wanted to do and didn’t second guess it.”
“The most important thing is that this deals with more than athletics,” Lee said. “We are teaching discipline and teamwork. We are showing them that they can meet new friends and learn something they didn’t know before. These kids are in their formative stages of life so this is a good time to teach them that the police are approachable.”
Lee said that the children are divided up into five groups made up of; t-ball, six and seven year olds, eight and nine year olds, ten and eleven year olds, and twelve and thirteen year olds.
Working with youth
PBPD Patrolman Melissa Johnson enjoys working with young people.
“I love it, this is what I’m here for,” Johnson said. “This is an opportunity that we can give these kids. Some of these kids don’t even have an opportunity for a good meal. We are feeding them lunch and are providing them with granola bars when they get here in the morning if they didn’t eat breakfast at home.”
PBPD Deputy Chief Ricky Whitmore said that the camp was a good opportunity for the students as well as for the officers.
“This gives children an opportunity for something to do,” Whitmore said. “Playing softball instead of sitting around doing nothing. This gives us an opportunity to interact with them.”
The camp is being staffed by 20 PBPD officers as well as 14 AmeriCorps cadets and Explorer members.
Johnson said that Explorers are young people ages 14 to 20 who are interested in becoming police officers.
“It’s fun,” said 10-year-old Da’vion Collier, a camp participant. “It’s teaching us sportsmanship and how to play better.”
“It’s fun,” 13-year-old Jayden Ventress agreed. “The camp is helping people learn who don’t know how to play.”
“All the people are really nice here,” said 13-year-old Raven Grant. “It’s fun. It’s a cool camp.”