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Fourteen-year-old Demonte Hoskins was ready to get down to business Monday morning.
“All you got to do is train out here,” he said. “It’s fun.”
More than 100 youth headed out to Fike High School for the annual football and cheerleading camp hosted by the Wilson Police Athletic League. The PAL program hosts a variety of free camps for community youth throughout the year, including many during the summer months.
On Monday, boys and girls ages 9 to 14 kicked off the summer right. While youth learn the fundamentals of football and cheerleading, they also get to interact with police officers.
“I think the absolute best part is the opportunity for us to build strong, long-lasting relationships with our youth in the community,” said Wilson Police Chief Thomas Hopkins.
Hopkins said that’s one of the biggest advantages when it comes to holding the athletic camps. He said it not only gives youth a chance to learn skills but to also build relationships with the officers and vice versa.
Thirteen-year-old Tyler Wardle said he’s been focusing a lot recently on basketball, but he wanted to brush up on his football skills. This is his first time attending PAL’s football camp, he said.
“I just wanted to train more in football,” he said. “I wanted to come back (to it) since it’s been a while since I’ve played it because I’ve been focusing so much on basketball.”
Youth spend three days of intense skill training, and then they show off what they’ve learned at the end of the week, including flag football games. Friday is the big treat where championship games are played. The girls also spend the first part of the week learning cheer fundamentals at Toisnot Middle School. They are later assigned to individual teams at the end of the week to show off what they’ve learned.
Youth also learn life lessons during the free camp. Each day, they listen to a special message prior to getting on the field and in the gym.
“Try your best so you can better yourself for the next level one day in all that you do, academic and athletic,” Detective Billy Woodard told the kids. “Compete ... and try hard.”
The kids will also get a chance to try out new equipment this week thanks to a $2,000 donation through BB&T’s Lighthouse Project initiative.
“This will allow us to maintain the camp for years to come,” said Wilson police Maj. Scott Biddle. The new equipment includes blocking dummies, arm pads and tackling wheels.
The nonprofit PAL program continues to expand its offerings of free camps, including softball, tennis, soccer, volleyball and baseball. Police officers want to keep kids busy throughout the summer.
Maj. Craig Smith said as the week progresses, more youth will show up for the camp. Children are also fed, thanks to various community sponsors and donations. Smith said organizers will continue to take more youth throughout the week for this particular camp. Campers just need to be at Fike High School’s field by 8:30 a.m. where parents can register prior to the start of the day.
The camp also had a special guest Monday — Jeff Hood, chief executive officer for the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues. Wilson is one of more than 400 chapter members nationwide.
“Wilson PAL is one of our flourishing chapters from around the country,” Hood said. He wanted to visit as he does with all PAL chapters to be able to see and interact with the kids and also look at the impact police are having and serving within this community.
He said PAL’s mission is to engage kids, cops and the community. Hood said it’s important for kids to see police officers outside of their uniforms.
UPCOMING FREE CAMPS
For more information on the upcoming schedule of free PAL camps this summer in Wilson or to register, visit wilsonpdpal.org. Softball camp for girls ages 9 to 14 will be held June 18-20 at Toisnot Middle School. Baseball camp for boys ages 9 to 14 will be held June 21 and 22 at Fleming Stadium. Call 252-399-2316 for more information.