DALLAS – Jonathan Lax, a sixth-grader at St. Philip’s School in Dallas, could hardly contain his excitement Saturday afternoon. For over a year, COVID-19 prevented him from hanging out with some of his closest friends from the Dallas Police Department, and finally, everyone was finally back together.
“Today was a mini basketball camp where we had Dallas police officers, and the Mavs came here to do some drills with all of the kids,” Lax said. “It was fun. It was a whole lot of fun.”
For the fifth year, the Dallas Mavericks teamed up with the Dallas Police Athletic League – better known as PAL – for a basketball clinic presented by Smith Thompson, a longtime Dallas Mavericks community partner. The Mavs’ community relations team oversaw the event and Mavs Academy coaches Ronard Patton and Cory Carter helped the children and police through various drills.
The event’s goal was to build bridges between children and law enforcement officials through the love of basketball. There’s a heavy emphasis on leadership development and self-esteem building, utilizing sports to create common interests.
“We try to foster a relationship between the first responders and police officers and citizens,” said Sr. Cpl. Allison Brockford, stationed at the Northeast Division.
“In particular with PAL, we work with our youth and do various programs and events, and that’s the vehicle to build relationships,” she added. “Today is about basketball, but we do other activities like horsemanship, we have a chess club, boxing and financial literacy programs.”
Cpl. Brockford has worked in patrol, youth outreach, and the neighborhood policing program throughout her eight-year career with DPD. She understands firsthand some of the challenges that the children have endured since the global pandemic first arrived.
Back in March 2020, Brockford was one of the first Dallas police officers to test positive for the coronavirus, and just like the children, she’s thankful to finally be back with the kids in an uplifting environment, with basketball serving as the catalyst to unite her with young people.
“It’s been really tough because of COVID,” Cpl. Brockford shared. “We couldn’t do some of our programs, and for some of the kids, this is really all they have. They don’t have a lot of these after-school programs…so it’s been hard for them.”
She said this program is important to Dallas police officers because they see the growth and impact that PAL has on the children.
“Over the years, I’ve seen a huge difference in many of the kids,” Cpl. Brockford added. “I’ve seen some youth who get in many fights, then learn to have friends and learn better ways of coping with their feelings. They have more positive peers around them in our programs.”
Stories like this are the exact reason that Dallas Mavericks legend Derek Harper, along with former players Willie Davis and Morlon Wiley from the National Basketball Retired Players Association, showed up to surprise the children Saturday.
The trio helped the youth through drills, played games, and then encouraged the young people about the importance of leadership and setting goals.
“Throughout my career, I always thought it was necessary to be in the community,” said Harper, who had his jersey number 12 retired by the Dallas Mavericks back in 2018. “A lot of people don’t see this part of professional sports. Serving the community has always been important to me, and that will never stop. You come out here and give something back.”
Harper is one of the best NBA players ever to play the game, and the Mavs have only retired three jerseys in the franchise’s four decades as a team. He’s also won numerous Emmy awards with the Dallas Mavericks broadcast team.
He said getting back on the hardwood with young people is special because he wants them to know that people in the community love and support them.
“The Mavericks have been a big component of supporting the Dallas Police Department, and they are doing it again, and it’s special, it’s really special,” Harper shared.
“There’s a lot that’s gone on in the last year and a half with racism and social injustice,” Harper continued. “I think that police, in general, get a bad rap, but like with anything, there are bad people and good people. I think it’s clear that the officers here today want to make a difference in the lives of these young people, along with the Mavericks and other community leaders.”
Many of the kids and police officers already know each other well. The youth come various neighborhoods tucked in pockets all around Dallas.
The participants at Saturday’s clinic also received Mavs school supplies, including backpacks, notebooks, and Mavs merchandise to assist their return to school. Mavs in-game arena host Chris Arnold served as the event moderator and city councilman Casey Thomas also made a special appearance.
Sports bring people together, PAL organizers said, but they understand that many obstacles stand in the way. The first contact some of the children might have with police officers is sometimes negative, so Dallas PD aims to give them a personal connection and someone they can trust.
“It’s really important that they know to come to policemen for help,” said Sr. Cpl. Allison Brockford. “When they see us like this, in basketball shorts and a t-shirt in a sports environment, it helps build that trust and builds that bridge. So when they see us out in uniforms, they know they can trust us and ask for help.”
The PAL program brings youth under the supervision and positive influence of a law enforcement agency. It expands public awareness about the role of a police officer and the reinforcement of the responsible values and attitudes instilled in young people by their parents.
Even as a child, Lax said the PAL program has taught him many things and he’s thankful to participate in various events, like the Mavs basketball clinic.
“My experience with police officers has been really good,” the sixth grader shared. “On the news, you see things like police brutality, but police are actually pretty cool people. They are nice, so don’t be scared of them, and if you treat them like regular people, they will treat you right.”