LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's a unique mentoring program that came together about as quickly as a pick-up basketball game. Louisville Metro Police officers and Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputies working with the Shield of Faith organization took the challenge to become role models for one JCPS School.
First impressions don't have to be lasting impressions when it comes to cops and kids. That's the lesson as "Team Kool-Aid" takes on undefeated "Team Elite."
For the past two weeks, 60 kids at the Olmstead Academy have been playing hoops leading up to a championship game. The coaches? Police officers who volunteered their time when the school asked for their help.
What they didn't know? How talented the kids were. "I was extremely surprised at the team that I had," said Sergeant David Burns of LMPD's 6th Division. "They had great passing ability and shared the ball extremely well."
They were also surprised at what the middle schoolers shared about the police. "When I first saw them, I was scared," said Team Elite player Recardo Travis. He told WAVE 3 News, "I was scared because I thought they were just going to come and arrest people!" His teammate Trayshawn Brown added, "Most of the people in our neighborhood, they get in trouble and they (police) come back and say what do you know?"
Their friend Lorenz Wilson jumped in, "I was scared of them," he explained, "They can lock me up."
The game plan for coaches like Officer Clinton Reeves, who works the 2nd Division; establish a relationship and mutual respect. "Children need to be aware when police arrive, they are there to help," Reeves said.
The officers scored as 12-year-old Wilson and his friends got the message: They don't have to be afraid on or off the court. Wilson said of his police officer coaches, "They really learn about you and they like you as a friend and everything."
His mom Michelle Norfleet said, "I think it's been a great opportunity for them to connect with each other and to know that the police really do care about the kids."
LMPD Chief Steve Conrad checked in on the final game as it came down to a single shot, with "Team Elite" going 4 and 0. "If I had known it was going to be such a nail-biter, I would have gotten here a lot earlier," he said.
As the kids posed for pictures and picked up their trophies, Officer Reeves told us, "This relationship we built with these kids is very important to our department, our community and also to these children and it's great."
LMPD Assistant Chief Yvette Gentry set up the program along with the Shield of Faith organization. Together they helped buy each child a basketball, T-shirt, and trophies and pizzas for the tournament. Play It Again Sports in Okolona also helped sponsor the program.
The officers plan to keep up with the kids and maybe even try another outing with them like fishing.