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Erie Police Athletic League kicks off summer camp

July 30, 2018
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Gannon University police officer Antwan Fields, center, leads a group of campers in a run along West Sixth Street in Erie, Pa., at the conclusion of a day of activities as part of the second-annual Police Athletic League summer camp on July 23, 2018. About 140 Erie youth were expected to attend the five-day camp. (Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News via AP)

ERIE, Pa. (AP) — Richard Wagner went to Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School excited on Monday, July 23, his mother, Lisa Wagner, said.

The 10-year-old Pfeiffer-Burleigh student was there, with a sea of other Erie children, to have some breakfast, slip on a new T-shirt and play a little in the schoolyard off East 12th Street before boarding an Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority bus for a short trip to Gannon University.

Richard and the other participants in the Erie Police Athletic League’s summer camp would spend the week trying their hand at different athletic events, attending various presentations and taking part in a character-building program under the guidance of local law enforcement officers, educators and Gannon coaches and students before the event wraps up with an awards ceremony on Friday.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Lisa Wagner said before Richard, a first-year camp participant, embarked on his first full day of activities.

About 120 boys and girls were on hand for the camp’s opening, and as many as 140 are expected to participate during the week, said Erie police Sgt. Tom Lenox, the driving force behind the camp. That’s double the number of kids who were invited to the league’s first camp in August 2017.

“The reason you are all here is you are the best kids at your school. You deserve it. You earned it,” Lenox told the group before they left Pfeiffer-Burleigh.

Camp participants were invited through their involvement in the Police Athletic League’s after-school mentoring program, which began at Pfeiffer-Burleigh during the 2016-17 school year and expanded during the 2017-18 school year into McKinley Elementary School, Harding Elementary School and the Bethesda Trinity Center. The league will expand into Lincoln Elementary School, Lenox said. There are also some camp participants from the East Side Lions track club.

Helping run the camp are members of the Erie Bureau of Police, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office and the Gannon Police Department.

The first activity for the campers when they reached Gannon was a tour of campus. Lenox smiled as he talked about the campers asking “a lot of great questions about college,” and about Gannon President Keith Taylor taking the time to speak with the children and to field questions from them.

“That put a big smile on my face,” he said.

The students then headed over to Gannon’s Recreation and Wellness Center, where university coaches and players, along with law enforcement volunteers, ran them through some basketball drills. The campers, split into four groups based on the color of the T-shirts they were provided, were given instruction on defense, dribbling, passing and making layups.

“For us, I think it’s a really good thing for the community to reach out and try to do some community work, with the younger kids especially,” said Chris Viscuso, assistant men’s basketball coach. “You never know, you might get a kid that’s good enough to play for you one day and will remember this experience. And for our guys, it just lets them give back a little bit.”

After lunch, which Lenox said will be provided all week through donations from several local restaurants, the campers participated in a forensic investigation program with hands-on lessons that included lifting fingerprints and examining SWAT gear, said Gerald Clark, an assistant professor in Gannon’s criminal justice program who led the afternoon program.

The campers were taking part in a Step-Up character-building program the rest of the week, and would receive a certificate for participating in the component, Lenox said.

Kerria Gorton said before the camp started that she wasn’t sure what kind of experience the boys she dropped off for camp — Macdarius Moore, 11, Macdavius Moore, 11, and Daneris Moore, 10 — would have this week.

“We haven’t done this before. I don’t know. It’s something different,” she said.

Ann Brookhouser, who dropped off four grandchildren, said she loved the idea of the camp and was excited about the opportunity for her grandchildren to meet more police officers and to get a taste of the college experience.

“I want all of them to go to college. It’s an exciting thing to have them see what they can accomplish,” Brookhouser said.

Days earlier, Lenox said in a presentation on the camp during Erie Mayor Joe Schember’s weekly Thursday news conference that the first day of camp is his favorite day of the week.

“Even before we hit a ball, kick a ball, throw a ball ... these kids get a first-hand opportunity to where they come in automatically open-minded,” he said. “They get to see that college is a possibility, a realistic possibility. They actually get to see that maybe being a police officer, being in the law enforcement profession, is a reality, it’s a possibility.”

Lenox’s opinion hadn’t changed after the camp’s first day.

“These are great numbers. I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said. “I have a smile on my face.”

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Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com

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