Grant provides our kids with another safe place to play

We're big on the grandiosity in New London. The big splash. The big news. Often leading to disappointment. Cynicism. You try to hit too many home runs and you strike out a lot, too.

And then came one day last week when the kids were playing basketball on a refurbished court outside the Truman St. police substation, this scene so triumphant in its understatedness.

No home run here.

Just a bunt single.

Just the way we move forward.

Good people working quietly doing good things.

Somewhere, the tortoise smiles again, reminding all of us that you beat the hare one small step at a time.

The city used part of a $50,000 grant from Yale New Haven Health (read: Lawrence + Memorial Hospital) to create a green and gold court that's barely a free throw's distance from the door leading into the substation. A safe place for the kids to play. And another example that there is no other city in the country where the kids and the cops have a better relationship than the 06320.

Know why?

Because we have good people working quietly doing good things.

Bunt singles.

"We put a lot of effort into reaching out and being involved with the kids in the community," New London police chief Peter Reichard said. "Years ago, they ran an Explorer program and one of our sergeants (Cornelius Rodgers) was part of that as a kid. Once the kids get used to seeing police officers in uniform interacting with them, they'll get a better feel for the cops and the cops get a better feel for the kids. Then we see pickup games right out there on the court, which I've seen them do."

This was an idea that began a few years ago, stemming from national news about corroding relationships between police officers and residents of urban communities. What followed was the understated magic of simply reaching out.

And it's helped transform New London into a national beacon.

"I got an email from Dr. (Alison) Burdick from the middle school one day and we started corresponding," Reichard said. "We had a School Resource Officer there and (Burdick) wanted to know a little more about how to work with the SRO and the police in general. It blossomed from there. We thought maybe we could have events where police officers and kids get together."

And here is where the home run happened. They've played basketball and dodgeball together in the Bennie Dover gym. They've done leadership projects. Fishing. Reichard and Capt. Todd Bergeson, among others, eat lunch with the kids on occasion. This is as real and sincere as it gets.

"If you look outside right now, you can see the kids playing basketball, and they all came from Bennie Dover," Reichard said. "One of them is wearing a New London Police T-shirt we gave them a while ago. The kids know us and we know the kids. We've been working on this for quite a while. If the kids aren't at school they have a place here at the substation to play right outside where they feel safe."

There was an actual wait for use of the court last Thursday, 70 degrees and sunny, almost a Rockwellian scene in the middle of Truman St. Kids playing, community members watching and other kids waiting for the court.

"We know them and they know us," eighth grader Linda Holeman said of the police. "They're in our school."

"They live near us," eighth grader Lenijah Anthony said.

Go figure.

One innocent e-mail produces this happy explosion of ideas and interactions, better relationships and good news for a city that could use some.

And it's over a basketball court.

How simple.

Thus proving that in simplicity there is poetry.

Congrats to all involved. A bunt single just turned into a home run. Funny how that works.

Good people working quietly doing good things.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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