Winter Basketball

Syracuse PAL Provides Sports and Mentorship Through New Basketball League

By Thad Green

The Winter Basketball League is a new initiative by the Syracuse Police Athletic/Activities League (PAL) designed to provide a safe environment for local youth to stay active and learn life lessons.

“Our goal is to build relationships between law enforcement and the community. (This league) is another opportunity to do that consistently,” said Jimmy Oliver, director of community engagement with the Syracuse Police Department.

PAL previously held smaller basketball camps to transition into hosting a larger league. The players have participated in practices throughout November and are set to begin games starting Dec. 4. The season concludes Feb. 19.

The boys’ teams are divided into third- and fourth-grade teams, fifth- and sixth-grade teams and seventh- and eighth-grade teams. The girls’ teams are third- through fifth-grade and sixth- through eighth-grade.

Each division has four teams with at least two coaches. Every player receives a jersey with a PAL logo and a number on it.

A total of 360 players signed up for the league, but PAL was only able to accept 215 due to capacity limitations. The additional kids are currently on a waiting list.

PAL’s vision is to eventually have its own facilities that provide not only sports, but mentoring, job-readiness classes, nutrition training as well as photography and dance programming.

Coaches have been pulled from the Syracuse Police Department, Onondaga County Sherriff’s Office, New York State Police, Onondaga County Probation Department and the Syracuse City School District. Parents of some of the players have also stepped in to coach.

“It’s been great, and the parents have been very receptive,” Oliver said. “Parents stay and watch their kids practice, and they’re building relationships with the coaches.”

PAL is partnering with The Maxwell School of Syracuse University, with Maxwell recruiting college students to serve as mentors, assisting the participating students following practice or games for an hour to help with homework.

The seventh- and eighth-grade boys play from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays at Pastime Athletic Club at 1314 N. Salina St. The other divisions play from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Syracuse at 201 Hamilton St.

The community is encouraged to attend games to support city youth. PAL requests that masks are worn at the basketball events for everyone’s safety.

The Winter Basketball League is still looking for volunteer referees, particularly for games involving the younger age groups. To volunteer, call (315) 870-5288 or email syrpal@syracusepolice.org.

Oliver credits the SCSD for helping get the word out by putting up flyers and sending out messages to parents. He is encouraged by the high-turnout so far.

“Kids are excited; we’re excited, and the police department is excited,” Oliver said. “Again, our goal is giving these opportunities for the community and the police to engage in intentional relationships through non-threatening environments, and this is something that’s happening right now.”

Thad Green is a reporting intern for The Stand