Organizers of a Takoma Park benefit basketball game tomorrow expect a fast-paced, high-scoring contest of slam dunks, reverse layups and three-point bombers from half court. But in addition to the crowd-pleasing athletic feats, organizers also hope the game will raise money for a teenage substance abuse program and improve relations between the municipality's young people and its 35-member police force.
Youths "will get an opportunity to see who we are . . . that we're not all that super," said Police Chief Tony Fisher. "Some things they can do better than us."
The athletic contest is a team project among Fisher, his deputy, Capt. Dan Wortman, and Calvin Avant, the city's youth outreach worker.
The program it will benefit is the seven-year-old youth outreach project run by the Takoma Park Recreation Department, which provides after-school and weekend activities for about 300 young people, Avant said. Many of the participants are youths at risk of getting into trouble and children left at home without adult supervision, he said.
Many of the participants were found hanging out on street corners and were recommended for the program by police officers, school advisers and juvenile services counselors.
Proceeds from the basketball game will be donated to the outreach project's substance abuse education campaign, Avant said. The substance abuse program trains about 20 young people as peer drug counselors, he said. The peer counselors, ranging in age from 12 to 18, help conduct rap sessions that are attended by 40 to 50 youngsters.
Last year, the substance abuse program was funded through grants of $6,000 from Prince George's County and $5,000 from Montgomery County, Avant said. But the counties, citing budgetary constraints, recently notified Takoma Park officials that they will reduce their contributions to $2,000 each this year, according to Avant.
Organizers hope the benefit basketball game at Takoma Park Intermediate School will raise several hundred dollars for the substance abuse program.
Tickets are $2 for adults and $1 for those 17 and younger. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.
Wortman, a 21-year veteran, said the game also exemplifies the police department's recent efforts to become more community oriented. About 80 percent of police officer training involves "hard skills," such as making arrests and executing search warrants, Wortman said.
But on the average, 60 percent to 80 percent of an officer's time is spent using soft, or interpersonal, skills, he said. "We're starting to train more that way."
The 13 players on the Takoma Park police team, nicknamed the "Basket Cases," have been training hard for their basketball matchup with the "Kids on the Block," Wortman said.
Worried about being embarrassed by their younger and stronger opponents, the police team recently recruited two assistant state's attorneys, John McCarthy and Dave Boynton, Fisher said.
Wortman's outlook is pragmatic. "If we survive and no one gets hurt, we'll be lucky."