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Twelve-year-old Ty’lek Neal could barely contain his excitement Tuesday.
“The reason I come here is to get better at football and come see all of the officers,” he said. “And I get to see my friends and talk to them.”
Ty’lek was one of more than 100 youths who headed out to Fike High School for the annual football and cheerleading day camp hosted by the Wilson Police Athletic League. The PAL program, a nonprofit made up of current and retired police officers, provides a variety of free camps for community youth throughout the school year and many during the summer months.
On Monday, boys and girls ages 9 to 14 kicked off the summer right.
While the kids learn the fundamentals of football and cheerleading as well as dance, they also build lasting relationships with police officers.
“It’s a way for us to build partnerships and friendships within the community, especially for the youth who are going to be our next leaders as they get older,” said Wilson police Maj. Scott Biddle. “We want them to get to know us other than just as police officers. It gives us a chance to set an example for them and also to have fun with them.”
Twelve-year-old Elijah Twiss said it was his first time attending the camp, and he was loving it so far.
“I like all the different activities we’ve been doing,” he said. “I’ve never done these types of things. I’ve already learned a whole bunch about different positions and how you do them.”
Youth spend three days of intense skill training and then show off what they’ve learned on Thursday and Friday, including playing flag football games. The girls spend the first part of the week learning cheer fundamentals at Toisnot Middle School. They perform what they’ve learned Thursday and Friday on the fields.
The free camps also provide transportation, breakfast and lunch thanks to various community partners and donations.
BUILDING SKILLS AND CONFIDENCE
As the boys learned different skill sets at various stations on the field Tuesday, the girls spent the morning learning cheers with the help of many volunteers.
Eight-year-old Serenyti Campbell nearly had a cheer down pat thanks to volunteer Alicia Jones spending time with her.
“We work with them on their skills, also with their confidence and learning the basics of cheer,” said Amelia Rivera-Speight, who was over the sessions along with Beddingfield’s cheerleading coach, Jessica Applewhite. “A lot of girls aspire to become cheerleaders. This is just an opportunity for them to learn the basics and then have some fun.”
She emphasized the importance of teaching girls life lessons, too.
“It’s always important to instill in girls the beauty they have within and how to let that beauty shine and how to be independent and to be unique and authentic,” Rivera-Speight said.
Hunt, Beddingfield and Fike dance teams taught fundamentals of dance Tuesday to separate group of girls.
‘RELATIONSHIPS AND PARTNERSHIPS’
Prior to the start of each day, participants listen to various speakers for a short life lesson. Police often bring in former athletes who have come up through their PAL programs. Those special guests talk to the kids about leadership, good manners, a good attitude and what it takes to get to the next level. Former Fike High School and Philadelphia Eagles standout Izel Jenkins spoke to the kids Tuesday morning.
Capt. Eric Smith said organizers focus on more than just athletics. Police also have various enrichment and mentor programs throughout the school year. He said they couldn’t do it all without the community’s support.
“It’s about relationships and partnerships,” he said.
HOW TO SIGN UP
Officials said it’s not too late for your child to attend this week’s camp. Parents just need to take their child to the Fike fields by 8 a.m. and fill out a registration form.
For more information on the upcoming schedule of free PAL camps this summer in Wilson or to register, visit wilsonpdpal.org, where you can download a registration form. Softball camp for girls ages 9 to 14 will be held next week, June 17-19, at Toisnot Middle School. Baseball camp for boys ages 9 to 14 will held June 20-21 at Fleming Stadium. For more information, contact the Wilson Police Department at 252-399-2323 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.