Schenectady residents and Police Department officials wiped sweat as it dripped down their faces. The Tuesday evening sun beat down on the basketball court at Jerry Burrell Park as the two teams hashed it out, shouting, dribbling, lunging — and no amount of free Stewart’s ice cream could beat the sweltering heat.
The team of Schenectady residents sported yellow pinnies while the Schenectady Police Department team donned shirts with the logo for National Night Out, an event focused on building stronger ties between communities and law enforcement. It is held annually on the first Tuesday of August.
This year’s National Night Out kicked off the first ever 518 Common Unity Cup, a five-week summer sports series that aims to strengthen community bonds within Schenectady.
“While we’re coming outside to have fun this evening … it’s also to come together and create some trust between the community youth, the community families, the community resources,” said William Rivas, the organizer of the initiative.
Several Schenectady organizations, including the Schenectady Fire Department, Schenectady Community Ministries, and the city of Schenectady will join together every Tuesday in the month of August, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., for an evening of food, music, and sports. Tuesday’s event featured basketball but future games will include kickball, football, dodgeball and other field games.
“One of the things I wanted to do as an ’80s baby was bring back that feel of spending your summers outside playing ball with friends,” said Rivas. “And this is just an initiative in which we’re able to do that for five consecutive weeks playing five sports at five different locations — which was important because we want to tap into different communities, different youth and different families as well.”
The park teemed with Schenectady adults and youth, and the residents seemed optimistic about the events and their potential to spur confidence in law enforcement. Jeremy Neale, a 38-year-old Schenectady native, was in and out of the basketball showdown. When he wasn’t out on the court, he watched intently from the sidelines.
“Great game,” said Neale. “It bridges the cops with the community — couldn’t ask for a better event. Definitely well-needed.”
Alex Barnhill sat on some steps next to the basketball court, his head moving side to side as the teams raced from one end of the court to the other. Although he didn’t get in on the action himself, he still recognized the connection created through the competition.
“I think it’s good for the community because we’re actually seeing them in a different light, so it’s bridging that gap between the community and the cops,” the 42-year-old said.
Schenectady has seen a deterioration of trust between the community and local law enforcement following a number of controversial confrontations, including the violent arrest of Schenectady resident Yugeshwar Gaindarpersaud in 2020.
But Dane Jennings, the business director of Catapult Games, a Schenectady-based virtual reality company that is working on de-escalation training for police officers, believes the 518 Common Unity Cup events are a step in the right direction for repairing ties.
“It’s a safe space,” Jennings said. “People leave the event learning something from each other.”
According to Sgt. Nick Mannix, the Police Department appreciates that the 518 Common Unity Cup events will give them the opportunity to take off their uniforms and badges and interact with the community in a new way, though they know some may be reluctant given recent tensions.
“Give us a chance,” said Mannix. “We’re happy to be a part of this.”