Hoops camp a slam dunk

WTHS resource officers connect with youth on the court

Bill Keehn drives the lane and beats Officer Josh Nichols for a layup at the Washington Township Summer Basketball Camp on Monday, July 2

For the second time in as many months, the Washington Township Police Department is hosting a monthly community outreach program for the township’s youth. This month it’s a basketball camp.

“This is our second year running the basketball camp,” Chief Pat Gurcsik said. “It was successful so we brought it back again this year.”

The camp is free to kids. For youth in sixth to eighth grade for the 2018–19 school year, the time for camp is 10 a.m. to noon. For incoming freshmen to seniors for the 2018–19 school year, the time is 1 to 3 p.m.

The camp is at Washington Township High School, where two of the school’s resource officers, Tom DiTullio and Tony Leone, run the show.

“The main goal that Tony and I try to get across is to give the kids an opportunity to play basketball with officers,” DiTullio said. “They would otherwise never have an opportunity to interact with officers on a personal level. They have a chance to get to know the officers and do something fun with them.”

The first hour or so of camp is a group session where DiTullio and Leone hammer home the concept and objective of teamwork. They do drills for passing, rebounding and shooting. Then they break into playing five-on-five full-court basketball with other officers.

The two officers who don’t work at WTHS were Josh Nichols and Devon Bauman. The two were grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community.

“It’s great to get out and interact with all of the kids in the community and not just identify as a police officer,” Nichols said. “We let them know we’re people too. We enjoy playing basketball with the kids as much as helping them on the street as a cop.”

“I grew up in town playing basketball in the parks and rec league,” Bauman added. “If I can be a positive influence by coming out and playing or spending a Monday with them, it really helps out. I love being a positive influence in the community.”

As far as the kids go, they just want to come out and play basketball.

Collin Yashinsky, Bill Keehn and Raymond Cross were the voices of the campers. They really embraced the team atmosphere.

“I wanted to meet new people and play basketball. It’s fun playing with my friends, and the cops are great,” Yashinsky said.

“This program is fun, you don’t have to sit in the house all day,” Keehn added.

Cross stressed the importance of practice.

“When I was younger, my dad got me a basketball hoop and he said ‘practice, practice, practice.’ I love the camp, it’s great. It helps kids who are learning basketball to get better at all aspects of the game,” Cross said.

The camp accepts signups the day of the event. The remaining dates are July 16, 18, 23, 25, 30, and Aug. 1.

“I just want to thank the mayor and chief for allowing us to do community caretaking,” Leone said. “It gives an opportunity for kids and officers to be together in a different light than they might normally be. They can play a game with them and build relationships between police, kids and community.”