FALL RIVER — On Monday nights at the Boys & Girls Club, the basketball court is filled with blue uniforms — jerseys worn by players in a new free league for local college kids — and uniforms worn by members of the Massachusetts State Police who help run the league.
“Obviously in recent years there has been friction and tension with the police,” said Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn, whose office helps sponsor the new league. “If (players) have a negative view of law enforcement, that’s something that can help change it.”
The Unity Basketball League was launched last year at a community center in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. State Police Detective Lt. Anthony Dear said he wanted to start a program that would encourage positive interactions between community members and police. This quickly expanded to six leagues in Boston with 150 players. Now the State Police organizes leagues in Chicopee, Worcester and Brockton, as well as those in Boston and Fall River.
“People just started calling me and asking me about new locations,” he said.
One of those people was Private Darron Tucker, a Fall River native who works at the state police’s Dartmouth barracks. He heard about the league in Boston and wanted to start one in Fall River, he said.
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Tucker grew up playing at the Boys & Girls Club of Fall River; his first job as a teenager was as a staff member there. He would have loved to have a free league like this to play in when he was younger, he said.
“I love being able to help young people and be a positive role model,” he said. “Most of these kids have known me for a long time.”
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Today, about 70 children play in the Fall River league, which is open to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. That evening, the program was in its third of ten weeks, with plans for another 10-week session this summer, Dear said. Matches are every Monday evening.
Jessica Melody, a member of the Tiverton Police Department, coaches the league while some of Tucker’s friends also help out. Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson was at the Fall River Boys & Girls Club on Monday and said his office is also looking to get involved.
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The league is a way for local kids to stay active and learn skills such as sportsmanship and pride in their appearance – the league has a special rule that players must keep their jerseys tucked in at all times moment, or pass possession of the ball to the other team. But, said Dear, the focus is on building strong relationships between young people and the police.
After games, players can sit down with officers in a classroom and ask each other questions. Dear said he saw players from one of Boston’s leagues open up during one of those listening sessions after an officer said to raise their hand if they thought he was. there was something like “bad cops” and the other officers in the room had raised their hands.
“We all know there are bad ones, but I can tell you there are more good ones than bad ones,” Dear said.
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Audrey Cooney can be contacted at [email protected]. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.