On a slightly chilly Saturday November morning, bearing the cold and restless with excitement, around 300 Durham elementary students gather at Holton Career and Resource Center Field. Upon their arrival, the students are handed uniforms and begin their warm-up for the long-awaited 2017 PAL (Police Athletic League)’s soccer league.
PAL is a juvenile crime and violence prevention initiative by providing youths with “civic, athletic, recreational and educational opportunities.” PAL also aspires to help youths develop positive attitudes regarding police officers.
The Durham chapter of PAL was created in 2010 by the Durham Police Department and now-retired Officer Erwin Baker. In the earlier years, students from around six or seven elementary schools attended PAL activities. Currently, students from nearly all of the local elementary schools partake in PAL’s athletic programs. PAL offers a variety of athletic programs in addition to soccer, such as basketball, baseball and golf.
The 2017 PAL soccer league’s last game was on Nov. 18. The games were each 45 minutes long. Every game was split into two 20 minute halftimes. Unlike middle schools and high schools, Durham elementary schools don’t have sports teams. PAL is therefore a substitute for sport teams and help prepare elementary students for middle school athletic teams.
The players consisted of third to fifth graders from local elementary schools. The participating schools are: W.G. Pearson S.T.E.A.M. GT Magnet Elementary, Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, Easley Year-Round Magnet Elementary, Club Boulevard Elementary, Holt Elementary Language Academy, R.N. Harris Integrated Arts/Core Knowledge Magnet School, Eastway Elementary, Pearsontown Elementary, Institute for the Development of Young Leaders (IDYL), Merrick-Moore Elementary, Faith Assembly Charter School, Fayetteville Street Elementary, C.C. Spaulding Elementary, Sandy Ridge Visual and Performing Arts Elementary, Glenn Elementary, Morehead Montessori Magnet Elementary and Y.E. Smith Elementary.
Due to the uneven number of schools, Easley Elementary and Faith Assembly Charter School’s students were combined into one team.
Durham Police Officer John Suitt Jr., 45, is the community relations officer. He joined PAL in 2013 as the PAL Coordinator.
To celebrate the last game of the year, PAL provided the students with backdrops for pictures, pizza, water and medals. Additionally, PAL also provided transportation for students to and from the field.
“Everything is free,” Suitt said. “Only thing needed is for them to come out.”
Lukas Strout, 50, from Police Victim Services, helped compile complimentary photo CDs for the students. Although this was the first year photo CDs were passed out, Strout hopes for it to become an annual tradition.
In the end, W.G. Pearson won against Pearsontown with a score of 2 to 1, Club Boulevard won against Sandy Ridge with a score of 4 to 0, Eastway won against Glenn with a score of 2 to 0, IDYL won against C.C. Spaulding with a score of 2 to 0, Salvation Army won against Fayetteville with a score of 3 to 1, Holt won against Morehead with a score of 2 to 0, Easley and Faith Assembly won against RN Harris with a score of 4 to 0 and YE Smith won against Merrick Moore with a score of 4 to 0.
But the scores held no real meaning as the students continued to run with their might and laugh heartily with their friends over pizza.
Suitt looks as the children fondly. He hopes to build a future PAL center in the near future. He described it as a safe haven to house all of PAL’s activities. He also hopes for PAL to expand into more diverse programs in the future, such as boxing, track and cheerleading. And he expressed interest in several non-athletic programs, including robotics, chess and homework assistance.
PAL’s main future endeavor is to incorporate a multitude programs to help youth stay on the right path, and ultimately succeed. Despite the lofty goals of PAL, Suitt remained undaunted and said with a smile,
“It’s just a better way to make them better citizens.”
For more information on Durham’s local chapter of PAL, check out their Instagram.