The Cobb Police Athletic League program has helped hundreds of children on the south side of the county during the last several years, and organizers hope to reach even more youngsters with the addition of a new sport.
The PAL program, a nonprofit charity funded through grants and donations, works to deter juveniles from committing crimes through athletic and recreational opportunities. Sworn officers and civilians serve as coaches or mentors, and children are recruited through social media and school events.
Police Chief Tim Cox said the program gives children a way to interact with their peers and learn more about officers when they are not patrolling their neighborhoods. He also said it can allow officers to establish relationships with children and give them advice “before they actually make a decision that would result in a bad outcome.”
“To us, it provides the relationships that hopefully we can build on in the future,” he said.
When it launched in 2011, PAL had about 100 children participating in football and track programs. Now, the program offers midnight basketball, competitive stepping, baseball and soccer camps, martial arts and mentoring to about 600 children each year, said Alicia Hicks, administrative manager with the police department and executive director of the program.
In July, PAL organizers added boxing to the lineup of activities, which Hicks said was in the making for three years. About 15 children are participating in that program. Hicks said the Cobb County Police Department is waiting to see if there’s enough interest from children to open it up to more participants. She also said the police department is considering whether to add softball and lacrosse to the lineup.
With the exception of the track program, all programs are free.
Hicks said PAL has allowed children to see law enforcement officers in a more realistic way.
“I think the biggest benefit to them is to interact with police officers and see the officers in a fun environment, positive environment,” she said.
Nicole Knight of Marietta has been able to witness the benefits of PAL from two angles: one as a civilian coach of the track program and as a mother of three children who participated in sports offered through the program. She got involved with PAL because she wanted to find a way for her children to get involved in sports. Knight coaches 19 children ages 4 through 8. Since her age group is too young to participate in sports like baseball and football, she said the track program introduces the children to the concept of organized play.
“This provides them another athletic avenue to be involved in and be part of the team,” she said.
Running on the PAL track club has allowed 14-year-old Jaylen Marsh to improve his skills as an athlete and build the self confidence needed to succeed on the field and in his classes, he said. Jaylen just wrapped up three years of competing on the team, and said the coaches were “very loving, caring and I felt like they really enjoyed coaching.”
Jaylen previously played football for McEachern High School in Cobb County. He recently began attending Carrollton High School where he is a member of the baseball, football, basketball and track teams. Jaylen also said the experience allowed him to see Cobb police officers as men and women who love sports as much as he does.
“You get to know them,” he said. “It gives you a whole new perspective.”
For more information about the Cobb Police Athletic League, contact Alicia Hicks at 770-499-3921 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.