James Plowden is coming home, again.
The 34-year-old police officer returned to his hometown of Schenectady last July to join the city’s Police Department after seven years on the force in Atlanta.
On Saturday, he’s coming back to Hamilton Hill, where he played hoops in the Jerry Burrell Basketball League as a youngster, to take on community members ages 16 and older, and some fellow officers, in the Community and Police Basketball League.
The following Schenectady police officers will play in the second season of the Community and Police Basketball League:
• Chief Brian Kilcullen
• Sgt. Ryan Macherone
• Patrol Officer Andrew Macdonald
• Patrol Officer James Plowden
• Patrol Officer Sam González
• Patrol Officer Joseph Gatta
• Patrol Officer Komieko Mosher
• Patrol Officer Tom Kelly
“It’s a homecoming, homecoming,” said Plowden, a 6-foot-1 forward who played on the 1998 state championship Schenectady High School basketball team as a junior. “It’s been about 20 years since I’ve played in an organized basketball league in Jerry Burrell Park.”
Playing in the park at the age of 11 or 12 connected him to not only the park, but to all of Schenectady, he said. It was then and there that people would say “this kid is going to be legit,” he said.
“It’s going to be a lot deeper Saturday for me than most people would ever think,” he said.
Now in its second year, the league — which brings police and community members together for something positive, with the goal of enhancing relationships — will have more police participation than before, with eight officers signed up to play. Games will be played from noon to 5 p.m. every Saturday for four weeks, with playoffs on Aug. 1.
“It really shows the community how active the officers want to be in our lives and the initiative they take to be involved in the community,” said Rosa Rivera, a 24-year-old Hamilton Hill resident who organized the league.
Last year’s league had about five officers play, said Rivera, a program associate for The Schenectady Foundation, the league’s main sponsor. It’s also sponsored by the YMCA, First Reformed Church, the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association and Boys Day Out.
Rivera had wanted more police participation in the first year and said the league was met with some hesitation and ambivalence “on both sides.” But she admitted the league was “a bold idea to pitch.”
After a fairly successful first year, however, more officers and community members have warmed to the idea, she said.
“I think we got some good feedback on it, and I think it changed some perspectives about how well it could actually go and what everyone can actually gain from it,” she said.
The league will have eight teams of eight for a total of 64 players and about 40 community volunteers. Last year’s league had 42 players on seven teams and took far fewer volunteers to put on, she said.
“There’s going to be food every weekend, so we need a lot more help,” she said.
League members met Tuesday for a draft at the Schenectady YMCA, where volunteer coaches picked their teams. Each team has a representative of the Schenectady Police Department, which has always been Rivera’s goal.
Chief Brian Kilcullen, who refereed for the league last year due to a torn rotator cuff, will play this time around. He said the department wants to improve relations with community members in light of current events across the nation. In Baltimore, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American, died April 27 after suffering an injury while being transported in a police van, which fueled race riots in that city. In Ferguson, Missouri, the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in August incited riots there and protests nationwide.
The league will also incorporate officer-led discussions on topics such as police protocols, diversity in the department and how to handle conflicts with officers.
“We’re looking to avoid issues that you see nationally, and so this is one of those proactive measures we’re looking to take part in to make sure those things don’t happen here,” Kilcullen said.
Rivera emphasized the league is coordinated and run by volunteers who are part of the Hamilton Hill community. When outside organizations come in and try to make things better, “it kind of creates this need outlook,” she said.
“Having the faces of this event be community members and leaders shows people that there is an opportunity, and they can do similar things like this in that park, in the neighborhood, in the community,” she said, “whether it be a sports program or something else.”
Plowden said he’s looking forward to connecting with the community on the court. He coached last year when he was still in the police academy, and his team won the championship.
“A lot of times, you’re in uniform or your answering calls, or your driving to a call, so it’s a quick hi or bye,” he said. “So this gives you an opportunity to get out of the blue suit, get out of the black and white car and just be able to be a normal guy.”
He said it’s been about a year since he played competitively. He plays a lot of basketball, but it’s usually with the 12-year-olds he coaches in a league at Mont Pleasant Middle School, he said.
“This will be good to actually be able to play, run fast and play hard, because everybody’s going to be of age,” he said. “Twelve-year-olds, you don’t want to run over them, basically.”
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Categories: Schenectady County, Sports