Statesboro’s police chief plans to build a baseball program that he hopes will inspire, encourage and entertain Statesboro’s youth.
Seeded with $1,000 from his own pocket, Chief Mike Broadhead hopes the program will fill some gaps and help create positive relationships between police officers and the city’s young people.
The team will be known as The Arrows (Straight and True!), and will work out of the Luetta K. Moore Park on Martin Luther King Drive.
An informational meeting will be held Sunday, Nov. 12, at 2 p.m. at Luetta Moore. No baseball experience is necessary, he said.
This isn’t the first time Broadhead has developed a program like this. In his previous positions as police chief in Riverton, Wyoming, and Littleton, Colorado, he led the same type of effort.
“I coached a freshman baseball team at a high school years ago … and realized how much my job allowed me to interact with the kids on a different level,” Broadhead said. “I also ran into many of those young men through my duties as a police officer, and we always had that common ground. It made it clear to me that police officers have a unique position in a community, and they need to use it to reach out to youth.”
Initially, the team will focus on creating a 14U team for 13 and 14-year-old children. The program can be expanded to other age groups as interest develops. The team will be funded through the police department and by individual donations, according to Mayor Jan Moore.
Donations are key to the program’s success.
“Individuals who would like to donate are asked to contact the chief directly,” she said. “Funds will go through the Statesboro Police Foundation, a recognized 501c-3 non-profit organization, so donations are tax-deductible.”
The team is being coordinated this fall, and competition is expected to begin the spring, with practices set up so they will not conflict with middle school activities like baseball and basketball.
One of the programs Chief Broadhead started in Wyoming was a department-sponsored American Legion baseball program on the Wind River Reservation.
“I got to work with some fantastic young men ages 15-19 and developed some relationships that were healthy for these kids who had always viewed the police as 'the enemy,’” he said.
Working with Parks & Rec
Broadhead said he met with the Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department to help bring the initiative to life.
Bulloch Parks and Recreation Director Mike Rollins said the Statesboro Police Department team would complement the recreation department’s offerings, which only serve kids up to age 12. Middle school programs take up where that leaves off, but the SPD program can be a supplement to the schools sports programs, he said.
The only association between the county-run department and police program, however, is “they will utilize our fields.”
The Straight Arrows also will play year round, Broadhead said.
“I started a police sponsored ‘Fall Ball’ baseball league in Riverton for kids who wanted to keep playing baseball after the traditional season ended,” he said. “We had a core group of kids who really worked hard all fall to hone their baseball skills and prepare for the next season. The season lasted until the weather forced us to stop.”
Broadhead wanted to ensure the program’s success, and invested personally to get it started.
“I saw the benefits of having officers work directly with youth and the benefits of kids knowing officers on a different level,” he said. “Coaches can have a tremendous, long lasting impact on youth and I think advancing that relationship between the police and youth is always a good thing.
“On the money aspect, I just want to invest in these kids and in the relationships we can build with them. People often look to someone else to start programs, and I want to make sure that these kids understand that I am investing in them not just with my time and energy, but with my finances.”
He hopes community members will follow his lead and donate to the program.
“The beautiful thing about this initiative is that it will bring baseball back to Luetta K. Moore Park, located right in a residential neighborhood, at no cost to individual families,” Mayor Moore said. “We recognize that youth baseball is becoming more and more expensive. In addition to the cost, many kids live a long way from Mill Creek Park, and simply don’t have the transportation to participate in youth baseball there.”
Connecting with baseball
Broadhead said he chose baseball as a way to reach local youth because it is “such a unique sport in that players have to develop individual skills but fit them into a team concept,” he said. “There's not one single body size that can play better than another, you can be tall, short, skinny, or chunky and you can play the game equally. “
Financial challenges won’t keep a kid from playing with the SPD team either, he said.
“Unfortunately, baseball has become almost an elite game that is expensive, and the advent of travel ball has made families make a considerable investment to keep playing,” Broadhead said. “I like the idea of getting kids together, teaching them the game, and letting them have fun without all the pressures that come from trying to pay for it.”
Also, Broadhead hopes playing baseball on an organized level will offer a different outlet for youngsters in the face of a growing gang problem in Statesboro.
“We are starting this program with the 13 and 14 year olds because we need to make the connection with them now, before they hit high school and before the lure of joining a gang becomes attractive,” he said. “My plan is to get a group of kids together and keep them together all through high school. In Georgia, we can play baseball all year round, so that will help us keep those connections alive.”
Having a fun activity that builds positive relationships with law enforcement will be helpful as a crime deterrent, according to Broadhead.
“There are great kids in our community, but we need to keep them connected to a healthy, active activity,” he said. “Baseball can be that vehicle for us. Hopefully we can help these kids grow up understanding that the police are here to help them, they stay away from gangs, and they lead a healthy productive life. Maybe it's ‘pie in the sky,’ but I refuse to give up on these kids and we are going to do all we can to fight the gang problem from the roots up.
“The Parks and Recreation Department has been fantastic to work with in the planning stages, and they are supportive of our efforts. We chose this age group to start with because kids at this age are right on the cusp of becoming young men, and the choices they make over the next few years can shape the men they ultimately become.
“We want to make sure they are making good, healthy choices, and baseball is a great way to reach kids and help them develop their character. We also want to make sure they learn that the police are here to support them and help them achieve their goals,” he said.
If you would like to donate or learn more about the program, call Chief Broadhead at (912) 764-9911.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.