11/14/17 — A league of their own

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A league of their own

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on November 14, 2017 5:50 AM

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Izraell Gaines, 9, gets his jersey signed by Officer Aaron Keefer after the Cops Versus Kids flag football game at Fairfield Park Monday night. Izraell played on the Police Athletic League team the Raptors.

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Bryson Sampson, 5, and Josiah Cumberland, 5, try to wrestle the ball away from each other for a throw-in as they play in the last game of the season for the Goldsboro Police Department's Police Athletic League Team Saturday at Fairfield Park.

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Andrew Nail gives a hand signal to Jordan Stiller, 10, to let him know that he is watching him while they line up against each other during a cops versus kids flag football game Monday night at Fairfield Park.

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Bryson Sampson, 5, and Weston Howell, 6, battle for the ball Saturday at Fairfield Park during the last game of the season. Bryson is on Goldsboro Police Department's Police Athletic Team.

Children don't often get to see police officers out of uniform.

They usually see them patrolling the streets, their neighborhoods or in full garb at the schools they go to.

But here lately, it's been a different story.

Goldsboro Police Department's Police Athletic League got off the ground about eight weeks ago, and officers have been coaching children in soccer and in flag football.

Officer Dakota Toms, who coached flag football and finished the season in a police versus kids game Monday night, said there was a learning curve in coaching his 4- to 8-year-olds, as he doesn't have any children himself.

"With everything going on today, it's more important than ever for us to interact with children," Toms said. "It's important for them to know that this is the community we serve in, and one day they will need us for something -- if nothing else, they will see us and remember we coached them, and we can have that relationship with them."

And the children playing in Monday night's showdown had a blast.

It was officers participating in a community policing class with the department taking on a herd of small children, and the children crossed up a few officers, sending them sliding across the field.

But officers, too, had their fair share of action with it taking several children to tear off their flags.

And it was all in good fun.

At the end of it, children got footballs signed by each officer they played against, and the department gifted them free pizza and drinks after the game.

The group took team photos also.

Toms said the class was a great opportunity for officers to teach the children sportsmanship and proper conduct on the field and said it was important for officers to build relationships with children in the community.

Flag football wasn't the only sport coached by officers in this year's Police Athletic League -- there was soccer, too.

Capt. LeAnn Rabun coached a soccer team of 4- to 6-year-olds for the past eight weeks, with their last game happening Saturday against GPD's Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) manager, Marilyn "Rosie" Wagner.

Rabun said the soccer games were every Saturday, and that the kids loved seeing the police cars and talking to officers about who they were and what they do.

Officers plan to coach other teams in the future, too, so while the season is over, the league is not.

Children got to see a special piece of equipment Monday after the flag football game when officers brought out the SWAT van and served them pizza from the back of it.

The officers, too, took home a football signed by the children who played on the team.

"It's not often we get this positive opportunity with kids," Rabun said. "It's a good experience for everybody, and they get to see cops as real people."