Police Activities League youth bowling league
On a frigid Saturday morning in early January, when they could have been home enjoying a leisurely day off, about a dozen members of the Chesterfield Police Department instead were at Uptown Alley serving as coaches and mentors for the local Police Activities League’s winter youth bowling league.
It’s a significant commitment for the officers. The bowling league, which started Dec. 11, will run for a period of 21 weeks before concluding in May. But it literally couldn’t happen without them.
“All of these kids are part of our community. That’s why so many people give their time,” said Sgt. John Kimenhour, executive director of the Chesterfield PAL program.
An outreach effort to promote positive interactions between police officers and children in the communities they serve, the Police Athletic League was founded in 1910 by the New York Police Department. It now has chapters in more than 700 U.S. cities and serves approximately 2 million children annually.
Chesterfield’s police chief, Col. Jeffrey Katz, was a “PAL kid” growing up in his native Florida, so establishing a chapter in the county was high on his personal to-do list after he was hired in November 2017.
Chesterfield’s Police Athletic League program was incorporated five months later and held its first official event – a baseball and softball clinic at Ironbridge Sports Park – in May 2018. (It has since been renamed Police Activities League, to reflect the fact that it encompasses more than sports).
“The program helps bond the youth of our community with the men and women who have dedicated themselves to serving others,” Katz said. “We teach sportsmanship. We emphasize the value of winning with class and losing with dignity. But we also role model one of the most essential community virtues: selfless service. This program changes lives for the better and that’s what we are all about.”
After shuttering PAL for more than a year because of health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chesterfield Police Department re-launched the program last June with a 10-week summer bowling league.
PAL basketball clinic
That was the brainchild of its new PAL coordinator, Career Ofc. Brandon “Nik” Barndt, who has fond memories of participating in Allentown, Penn.’s PAL bowling league as a teenager and wanted to see how one would be received in Chesterfield.
Barndt spoke to the management at Uptown Alley and received enthusiastic support for hosting a youth bowling league. He also got PAL officers certified as coaches through the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) and secured funding to provide scholarships ($12 per week for three games and shoe rental) for seven kids from low-income Chesterfield households.
An average of 25 kids per week participated in the league, with a high of 33, enough to convince PAL leadership to run another this winter.
“Despite the many challenges people have faced during the pandemic, we are thrilled that PAL’s momentum has continued,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Winslow, a member of the PAL board of directors. “Relationship-building with our youth remains a paramount imperative of the county and we look forward to additional opportunities for engagement.”
While bowling is the only formal sports league sponsored by Chesterfield PAL, it engages with school-age children across the county in a variety of other activities – including 21 different events over the final six months of 2021.
Three National Football League players from Chesterfield – Anthony Harris, Jalen Elliott and C.J. Reavis -- hosted a one-day PAL football clinic last July at L.C. Bird High School. Participants went through a number of drills, played in a flag football game and got autographs from all three players at the end of the day.
PAL held a series of “5-0 Friday” sports camps last summer at county schools and River City Sportsplex, working with kids to develop their skills in basketball, volleyball and soccer.
Over winter break, it also participated in “game day” camps at multiple schools, with officers and youth competing in dodgeball, kickball and other games.
PAL "game day" camp at Grange Hall Elementary
“All of the officers left with big smiles on their faces,” Barndt recalled. “Some of the best pictures I got were of officers getting pegged with a dodgeball by one of the kids, and everybody was laughing.”
According to Capt. Mark Haynes, a division commander who oversees Chesterfield’s program, “breaking down stereotypes and barriers with law enforcement really is what PAL is all about.”
“It’s providing opportunities for officers not to be seen as [law] enforcers, but to serve as coaches and mentors to the county’s leaders of tomorrow,” he said.
It’s all part of Katz’s broader goal to create a self-sustaining ‘school-to-squad’ pipeline in Chesterfield.
“How awesome would it be 15 years from now for somebody to say ‘I was hanging out with you guys at the bowling league,’ and the next thing you know they’re out running [9-1-1] calls?” Kimenhour said.
Barndt can speak about that dynamic from first-hand experience. He still has a patch, emblazoned with the words “I beat my coach,” that he received during one of the weeks that participants in Allentown’s PAL bowling league competed alongside its police officers.
“I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been involved in a PAL program when I was younger,” he said. “That’s why this was my passion. It’s a dream job.”