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Community, Schenectady cops meet on the courts

Community, Schenectady cops meet on the courts

The Community and Police Basketball League in Jerry Burrell Park is a new league for players ages 16
Community, Schenectady cops meet on the courts
Schenectady Police Chief Brian Kilcullen referees a police and community basketball league game at Jerry Burrell Park in Schenectady on Saturday, August 2, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
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With time running down in the first half, Neftali Lind, 16, caught the ball and chucked it at the basket from half court. It missed.

After shooting around during halftime, the 6-foot-tall shooting guard passed the ball in, darted toward the hoop and caught a give-and-go pass. He went up for a dunk but that missed, too. On the next play down, he came off a screen, caught a pass and hit a 3-pointer off the glass.

His team was now up 39-15, but he wasn’t slowing down.

“If your up or not, I’m still gonna go hard,” said Lind, a star on the Schenectady High School varsity basketball team who will be a junior next year. “Even if we’re losing, I’ll still go hard.”

The Hamilton Hill resident was playing in the Community and Police Basketball League in Jerry Burrell Park, a new league for players ages 16 and older meant to foster positive relationships between police officers and residents.

City police Chief Brian Kilcullen was running up and down the court, refereeing Lind’s game.

“You’re able to develop a relationship outside of a typical police officer-resident relationship,” Kilcullen said at halftime, catching his breath. “You’re able to develop a friendship, almost, a familiarity. It tends to pay dividends when you’re actually out there in your official capacity.”

Shekinah Belmar, 26, of Schenectady, one of the only female players Saturday, said she liked seeing the chief “in this position."

“It’s nice to show police officers in this kind of light,” she said.

Belmar was one of 42 people on six of the league’s seven teams to play Saturday.

“I’m really enjoying myself,” she said. “I love that I’m doing this.”

Rosa Rivera, 23, who started the league, said the goal was to bring police officers and residents together “in a collaborative environment, instead of a conflict environment.”

She said she would like to see more police officers play in coming weeks so each of the league’s six teams can be joined by at least one officer. Only Detective Sgt. Ryan Macherone and Officer Joe Gatta played Saturday, but an officer in training, James Plowden, coached one of the teams.

“If we could get more officers, it would show residents that the officers are willing to come out and play basketball with them, to support them, to be a part of their community,” said Rivera, who heads Hamilton Hill’s Come Unity Alliance, which sponsors the league, along with the Schenectady YMCA.

Macherone, 36, and Gatta, 29, stretched on the sidelines in preparation for the next game.

“We play sometimes Sunday mornings, and my goal is to not have to guard him,” Macherone said. “I want to stress the age difference.”

Macherone said the event helped him bond with community members, something that can be difficult in the line of duty.

“It’s hard to create a bond when you’re there at the worst times in people’s lives,” he said.

Dennis Green, chairman of the Schenectady YMCA’s Boys Day Out program, assistant director of the Washington Irving Education Center in Schenectady and the coach of Lind’s team Saturday, said the event also showed him “as a normal person, just like you guys.”

“I grew up in the same place you did,” said Green, who was raised in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood.

Green watched as one of his players stole the ball and passed to a sprinting Lind, who made the layup with a defender’s arms wrapped around him. After sinking the free-throw — his 18th point — he finally got to catch a breather on the bench.

“I think it’s great,” he said of the league. “Good for the ’hood.”

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