By ANGELIKA MENENDEZ
On Nov. 1, the Police Athletic League (PAL) and the New York Police Department (NYPD) 48th precinct in partnership with the New York Jets, hosted a flag football game for children from the Bronx. The game was held at Martyrs’ Lawn on Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus. Representing the Jets were offensive lineman Wesley Johnson, defensive back Marcus Williams and running back Taiwan Jones.
Officer Victor Matos and commanding officer Timothy McCormack began recruiting for the program in September and over 150 students, ages 9-19, signed up to play in this flag football league. The game at Rose Hill was one of many in a series and took approximately three days to plan.
The idea for the game at Martyrs’ Lawn came up after the Jets said they wanted to come to the Bronx, but Mates Ballfield, which was where the previous games took place, was too small for the number of students who wanted to attend. Therefore, the Jets and the precinct reached an agreement that the Jets would come if there was a field available at Rose Hill. The precinct then reached out to district manager John Sanchez who contacted Fordham. Many of the fields were taken up by different sports teams, but two days later Fordham told Sanchez that Martyrs’ Lawn was available.
Although it took place on Fordham’s campus, only the children in the league could compete in the game. Still, Fordham students joined as spectators, while over a dozen volunteered to help. According to Sanchez, the players who came to the event were very receptive to the kids and crowd. They even signed autographs, and Sanchez believes they had a great time. The Jets with the help of PAL also assisted in paying and donating uniforms to the kids in the league.
“Football players only get a day off per week and they came on their day off. I commend the Jets for sacrificing their day off to help kids from the Bronx,” Sanchez said.
As for PAL, 35 officers also volunteered to take part in this league. Even the commanding officer shows up to some of the games, which Sanchez said is unheard of in any other precinct. Some of the officers have a background in football, which helps them coach the kids. They do not get paid overtime for taking part in this league and do it on their vacation time, which Sanchez said he also respects.
Sanchez believes that this event was successful due to the participation of the New York Jets players. For many kids, it was their first time interacting with a professional football player. PAL and NYPD created this program to encourage students to develop relationships with their local officers if they have an emergency. According to Sanchez, students are now more comfortable walking past officers and saying hi to their “coach”. Instead of fear, it is a friendly communal relationship.
“Programs like this need to be expanded because they are important. There seems to be a divide between young people of color and police, but this shows that we can work together and be on the same team,” Sanchez said.
PAL hopes to expand this program and continue with basketball when flag football ends. Community Board 6 also plans to provide two paid internships to students in the area who want to stay involved with the league. According to Sanchez, the hope is that after the young adults in the league cannot play when they reach the age of 20, they can go and get a job with the help of the board.