In Alexandria, police officers do much more than just catch the bad guys…they teach kids about sports and self-esteem and about life.
A number of community support officers are working with youngsters. Craig Melendez is in charge of a wrestling program that involves 30 children between the ages of 5 and 12.
“We’ve been working with the wrestlers for about four years,” Melendez said. “I coach the team and the kids go out and wrestle all around Northern Virginia in their individual weight classes. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The team is called The Crime Stoppers and is funded through support from the Alexandria Police Athletic League, the support of the parents and with private contributions. The team practices at T. C. Williams and also receives support from the T. C. Wrestling Booster Club.
“As part of my job with the Community Support Section of the Alexandria Police Department, I agreed to work with youth in the community,“ Melendez said. “This is certainly a delinquency prevention tool but it is much more. Everyone who is involved with the program is involved with the Alexandria Police Department. We conduct background checks of our coaches and parent volunteers and make sure that the kids have a positive experience.”
Melendez and other members of the Community Support Section are trying to offer kids in the city athletics that are not necessarily readily available through the recreation department. “We have no plans to get involved with football or basketball because the recreation department has that covered,” he said. “However, we do want to look at other sports such as tennis and golf. We would like to expand our program.”
THAT EXPANSION has already begun. Officer Dara Small coaches a girl’s soccer team. “I’ve had the girls for about three years,” she said. “I started with them when they were 8 and they are 12 this year. I want to teach them soccer skills and help them to play select soccer or even high school soccer if that’s what they want. But, most important, I want them to have fun and see that involvement in athletics is a positive thing.”
Small played soccer in high school and college and has coached through the University of Virginia’s Youth Soccer program. “Our team is through the Alexandria Soccer Association but kids hear about us through word of mouth and want to be part of the team. We take as many kids as we can,” Small said.
THE ALEXANDRIA Police Athletic League, which provides some funding for the sports programs, does much more than just sports. Belinda Callahan, the president, said, “We have been working very hard to reconstitute APPAL after the officer who had been running the programs left,” she said. “We have the art club and are looking for ways to expand.”
To that end, APAL will hold a fund-raiser on March 13, at T. C. Williams High School. The Harlem Ambassadors are coming to town to play basketball and work with kids.
“They will play a game against a group of police officers and will work with kids in the audience at halftime,” Callahan said. “We had them here last year and it was a great event.”
For information about APAL and the Harlem Ambassador event, call 703-549-2015. For information about the sports programs or to volunteer, call Officer Craig Melendez at 703-395-6115 or the Community Support Section of the Alexandria Police Department at 703-838-4763.