Harrison County

Gulfport officers, students battle on basketball court

Gulfport police-community basketball game

Basketball game between Gulfport police Blue Crew and The Solution looks to bridge gap between police and community.
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Basketball game between Gulfport police Blue Crew and The Solution looks to bridge gap between police and community.

They fought the law, but the law didn’t win — this time.

High school students prevailed over Gulfport Police Department officers Monday night 46-26 in the first basketball game aimed at improving relations between officers and residents.

People packed the Gulfport High School gym to see who would win serious bragging rights. But there were no real losers, as improved police-community relations is a win for everyone.

Gulfport is like a lot of cities across the country, feeling the effects racial tensions, gang violence and mistrust between police and residents more this year.

But with both groups literally on an even playing field, those differences seemed to melt away Monday.

“I think there’s a disconnect, because based on television, social media and even sometimes their parents, kids may have a warped view of the police and what we do,” Sgt. Tony Alves said. “So what we’re hoping is that when we’re out of the uniform and we’re in this (basketball) uniform, the kids will feel like they’ll be able to connect with us and they’ll be able to tell us about the problems that they’re having.”

Josh Simmons, one of the student players, agreed.

“I really want this community to become one and no division between it ... and (we) really want to show that you can really trust police officers.”

Chief Leonard Papania had first approached the students with the idea of starting pick-up games, but the students wanted to up the ante to a public event.

He told the students they — the young people — could help be a solution to long-standing problems.

So team Solution faced off against the Blue Crew.

“This first game is gonna be the launchpad for a program that I think will be super beneficial for everybody in the community and the city of Gulfport,” Alves said.

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