MIAMI – Competition was fierce as local kids and law enforcement personnel vied for the title of Fall Classic Youth & Cops Basketball Tournament champion.
Held at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex in Miami Gardens, the fourth-annual tourney consisted of 11 teams, each one comprised of kids and police officers or staff from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida (USAO-SDFL).
“It’s not youth against cops; it’s youth with cops,” said J.D. Smith, Chief of Law Enforcement Coordination and Community Outreach Section, USAO-SDFL.
The tournament was won by the North Miami Beach Police Department, with USAO-SDFL finishing second. But more important than winning was the opportunity for kids and law enforcement to mingle and get to know one another.
“I love seeing the departments come out,” said Chris Browne, assistant U.S. attorney. “Officers spot kids from their communities and get them to come play and show off their talents.”
Kevin Santos, a supervisory contract specialist with USAO-SDFL and former Coral Gables High School basketball player, already knew the kids on his USAO team.
“I have coached all of these kids through the We Are the Academy recreation league,” he said. “All are very talented players. I wanted to give kids from different backgrounds the chance to play and interact with our community law enforcement partners. As soon as they got an opportunity to represent the U.S. Attorney’s Office they jumped at the chance and immediately said yes.”
The idea for this tournament came from a town hall meeting a few years back where some youth said they thought police officers weren’t nice people.
“But they’d had no interaction with police officers,” said Smith. “An event like this humanizes people and helps break down barriers. It gives our youth a glimpse of the person behind the badge so they can see they’re regular folks just like the rest of us. That is why we started this.”
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, Smith is happy the tournament is back. And judging from all of the smiles and high-fives, it seemed everyone else felt the same way.
“It’s great to be back,” said Smith. “It’s fun. This is what it’s all about. You can’t beat it.”
Tournament participation included Miramar Police Department; North Miami Police Department; Miami-Dade Police Department (The U); North Miami Beach Police Department; Miami-Dade Corrections Department; Miami Gardens Police Department; Miami Beach Police Department; United States Attorney’s Office; Miami Police Department; Florida Highway Patrol; and Miami-Dade Police Department Community Affairs.
Special acknowledgement to Miami Gardens Police Department for hosting the event in their city, as well as the police agencies who supplied refreshments to the more than 150 tournament participants.
Cutline information for photo: Members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida basketball team take a quick huddle to design a play during the recent Fall Classic Youth & Cops Basketball Tournament.