Julia Downes, a community relations officer for the Cherry Hill Police Department, has volunteered as a coach and mentor for young athletes playing for the Cherry Hill Soccer Club.
Cherry Hill Township police officer Julia Downes spent much of her childhood playing soccer.
Downes began playing the sport the age of 5 and progressed all the way through club and high school soccer.
Now, Downes is taking the soccer field in an entirely different way. She has begun volunteering with the Cherry Hill Soccer Club, working with some of the club’s female players during Friday training sessions. Downes first attended a training session in late September and volunteered for the club again last Friday.
“It’s just something that is fun for me, fun for them and it’s something fun to do outside of wearing the uniform every day,” Downes said
A significant part of Downes’ job as a police officer is interacting with the community. Downes is a community relations officer, meaning she frequently attends township and community events and interacts with residents of all ages.
Downes has been with the Cherry Hill Police Department for a little more than two years.
“I love to do community events,” Downes said. “I get to meet people from all different walks of life and backgrounds.”
Downes’ love of soccer dates back to her childhood growing up in Gloucester Township. She began playing soccer at the age of 5 with Highland Youth Soccer Club. She later played in Mt. Laurel before returning to her hometown to play for T.B.A.A. Soccer Club. In high school, Downes played for Highland Regional High School, eventually becoming the team’s lead captain.
While Downes is in her third year of work with the Cherry Hill Police Department, she is still new to youth soccer coaching. Downes developed a relationship with Cherry Hill Soccer Club earlier this year after she told Cherry Hill Police Chief William Monaghan about how she played soccer as a kid.
“I played for pretty much my whole life,” Downes said. “I played when I was their age, I played in high school, I traveled all over the country with my club soccer team. So I told them I really enjoyed soccer.”
Monaghan put her in contact with Cherry Hill Councilman Brian Bauerle, who volunteers with Cherry Hill Soccer Club. Bauerle helped get Downes set up to volunteer during some of the club’s training sessions on Fridays at Cherry Hill High School West. The Friday training sessions are open practices where the club’s players can participate in drills and play in scrimmages to help improve their skills.
Being on the soccer field as a coach and mentor was new for Downes. She said it was a very different feeling to be instructing the younger players.
“I’ve never been a coach for a soccer team, so it’s a little bit of a different transition for me from what I’m used to do, being the player versus being the coach,” she said. “Fortunately, I had some help from a lot of different people. But it was really fun and it was something I was really excited to come out to do.”
Downes has worked with some of the club’s 5- and 6-year-old players. Downes loves interacting with the girls and enjoys watching them participate in the drills.
“The girls really enjoyed it and I enjoyed it,” Downes said. “They teach me stuff just as much as I teach them stuff.”
Downes also hopes to develop a stronger relationship with the girls off the field. She attends the training sessions wearing a pink Cherry Hill Police Department t-shirt. One of the biggest goals of Downes participating in the program is to allow the players to see her “beyond the badge” — a phrase the department is using to encourage officers to be active participants in the Cherry Hill community even when they’re off duty.
“We still play soccer,” Downes said of police officers. “We still have families. We still have pets at home just as anyone else does. I think it shows that we’re human just like everybody else is. We’re a person outside of our uniform.”