HARFORD CO., Md. (WJZ) — Across the country, through the Department of Justice’s “Badges for Baseball” program, 29,000 at-risk teens have been offered a different view of police officers.
This summer, 500 of them landed in Harford County for a once in a lifetime experience with Ripken Baseball.
During the summer months, the fields adjacent to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen are filled from sunup to sundown with young athletes trying to improve their skills.
If you looked around this past week, you’d see many people playing baseball, but many of the teens had never played the game before.
Coaches? There are some, but ask Mark Sheelor – who has ‘mentor’ written on his back – what he does in real life and he’ll tell you, “I’m a lieutenant with the Montgomery County Police Department.”
Sheelor and 43 other officers are part of the “Badges for Baseball” camp.
188 at-risk teens, like 14-year-old Isiah Sierra, from Harlem, are here this week.
“It’s a different experience for me because I get to be away from my family for a week,” Sierra said.
The idea is to pull the kids out of their home environments, send them to this overnight camp, and use baseball to teach choices, decisions, and consequences.
Or as Scott Swinson with Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation put it, “Our hope is that they have an incredible experience here, they change as a person for the better, and they take those life lessons that they’ve learned here back to their communities and use them for positive good.”
If that’s not enough, another goal is to change their opinion of police officers.
“If you ask anyone when they took the job, they want to help people. That’s the bottom line, that’s what they want to do,” Lt. Sheelor said.
The actual baseball coaches are wearing red shirts, but you see quite a few adults out on the field in blue.
It’s appropriate as when they’re home they also wear blue, but also carry a badge and a gun.
The message got through to 14-year-old Brandon Rivera from upstate New York.
“I think they achieved it 100 percent. I always had the bad look on police because of stuff that’s been going on but now I see that there are a lot of good people in the world, and I see them differently,” Rivera said.
By the time this camp is completed, more than 500 teens from 21 different states and D.C. will have participated.
For those who needed to fly in, Southwest Airlines picked up all of the flights. The average cost for each camper is about $1,000.
The money to cover the cost is coming from federal, state, and private grants, as well as the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.