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Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
“If people play together they learn how to live with each other,” said North Charleston (South Carolina) Police Department (NCPD) Chief Reggie Burgess explaining why he started the department’s powder puff football league. “We had seen positive results from our Cops Athletic Program (CAP), which includes basketball and other programs for boys, and I thought girls should benefit from team sports too.”
The goal was not only to give teenage girls the chance to build the camaraderie that comes from being on a team but also to encourage the development of responsibility, self-discipline, and other life skills while also improving the girls’ relationships with law enforcement.
Grades, Behavior, and Relationships Improved
Asked why he chose football, Chief Burgess said, “We wanted to engage the girls soon after they got back to school, and it’s a fall sport that gets them outside. Plus, the girls could share some of the limelight the boy players get.” So in 2014, he asked area high schools for their help in setting up a program to be supported and coached by the NCPD officers in partnership with the teachers and the North Charleston Recreation Department.
The powder puff league was launched soon afterward and now includes eight high schools, 240 players, and many more fans. In the beginning, the girls knew little about the game. But their football skills quickly improved along with their grades, behavior in school, and personal relationships. At first, the parents were skeptical, but they soon saw the benefits and became big supporters. “Our relationship with the schools and the community, which includes Black, Hispanic, and Asian members, has grown and become more positive as a result.”
Community Support When NCPD Needed It Most
This support was particularly helpful in April 2015, after a White NCPD officer fatally shot Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man, in the back. The mood in the North Charleston was tense; on the night of the annual high school championship review, when teams from all over North Charleston come to city hall, the building was surrounded by news reporters and protestors accusing the department of racism.
But despite the hubbub, the city council room became silent as the powder puff league players, most of them African Americans, marched proudly down the aisle in their uniforms. “Everybody could see that we had good relationships with these girls,” said Chief Burgess. “We were telling the press and community that the shooting was an isolated incident—that most of us are good, caring people dedicated to the community. The way the girls treated us that evening and the kind things they said about the NCPD officers showed that. It was a very emotional ceremony—we had gone through so much, and it really helped us get through that difficult time.”
Officers Helped Girls Go to College
The individual relationships that have developed also demonstrate this dedication. One example is that of two very bright players who aced the college entrance exams but couldn’t afford to attend. NCPD officers stepped in, helping them fill out scholarship forms and raising funds for books and other fees. Both girls have stayed close to their coaches, and one is majoring in criminal justice with the intention of becoming a law enforcement officer. Other players who have gone to college or into the military also keep in touch and visit the department when they are home.
“The officers feel like they are family in a way,” says Chief Burgess. “They really care about these girls and enjoy the league as much as the players do, maybe more. Powder puff football has been a very positive program for all of us. It’s a winner for the department, the girls, the schools, and the community.”
Senior Technical Writer
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