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County youth to get league of their own

February 15, 2001

County youth to get league of their own



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Police Athletic LeagueWILLIAMSPORT - Two county police officers hope young people will find a friend in P.A.L.

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While patrolling the streets of Williamsport, police officers Mark Weber and Mark Hansberger kept hearing the same thing from the groups of young people clustered on the town's street corners.

"They kept telling us that there is nowhere to go and nothing to do in this town," Weber said.

The two deputies from the Washington County Sheriff's Department realized the kids were right, they said.

That's why Hansberger and Weber decided to start a Police Athletic League, or P.A.L., in Williamsport. They hope to keep kids off the streets by providing them with a safe meeting place and a wide range of fun activities.

"We want to build a place they can call theirs," Weber told about 50 Williamsport residents who attended a P.A.L. organizational meeting Feb. 8 at Springfield Middle School.

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"We're hoping for this to just skyrocket," Hansberger said.

Free membership in Williamsport P.A.L. will be open to all youth ages 8 to 17 throughout Washington County. Members must follow safety and behavioral rules to stay in the program.

The deputies, who recently visited the active P.A.L. centers in Baltimore County, expect membership to exceed Williamsport's boundaries as the more than 2,000 kids enrolled in the town's schools tell their friends in other parts of the county about the program.

A pizza and movie party to kick off P.A.L. will be held Saturday, April 7, at 6 p.m., at the community building in Byron Memorial Park.

P.A.L. will not have a fixed meeting place until the new gym at Williamsport Elementary School is built next year. The county Board of Education and Recreation & Parks Department have guaranteed use of the facility to P.A.L. members, Hansberger said.

The plan is for the P.A.L. facility to be a youth drop-in center available to card-holding members after school and on weekends once the gym is completed and a volunteer force has been established.

"We have to crawl before we can walk," Hansberger said.

Parents, police and other adult volunteers in the community must pledge some of their time to help run the program for it to be successful, he said.

"It's a great opportunity to come and give back to your kids and your community," he said.

Adults, who will be subjected to background checks to ensure P.A.L participants' safety, will be needed to teach activities, organize fund-raisers, chaperone field trips and help in any other way possible, the deputies said.

High school students may be able to fulfill community service requirements by volunteering with P.A.L., they said.

Weber and Hansberger said they hope to offer all-inclusive activities ranging from archery and arts and crafts to sewing and weight training.

Many Williamsport youth have said they just want a "place to hang-out and be themselves - a place where everyone is equal," meeting attendee Kirsten Stains said.

It's important for program participants to be part of the decision-making process, she said.

The deputies agreed.

Eventually, P.A.L. could offer activities including boxing, self-defense, aerobics, homework clinics, computers, dances, holiday parties and field trips to such places as amusement parks, baseball games and museums, the deputies said.

The Washington County Gaming Commission and other funding sources may provide money for P.A.L., which is a nonprofit organization, Hansberger said.

The league will solicit tax-deductible donations from area businesses and individuals, and P.A.L. participants will be expected to help with fund-raising, he said.

"We don't want to hand these kids everything," Hansberger said. "We want to make them earn it."

Williamsport Mayor John W. Slayman and Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook attended the meeting to voice their support for the program.

P.A.L. membership applications can be obtained at Town Hall in Williamsport.

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