Springfield-area law enforcement, youth group to play basketball game for awareness

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

One Springfield nonprofit is hoping a hoop can help connect law enforcement and local youth.

Brake the Cycle, a recently-formed club aimed at giving boys in grades 4-12 a positive start, takes on a team of local law enforcement members in an exhibition basketball game dubbed “Bridging the Gap” at 5 p.m. Thursday at Springfield High School.

Admission is free and the public is encouraged to attend. Masks are required and social-distancing and other safety protocols will be followed.

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The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 has led to uneasy relationships between some communities and law enforcement. Brake the Cycle founder James Cooper saw an opportunity to build a positive relationship here by having Clark County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Spencer Wheeler as a guest speaker at a recent meeting.

Wheeler said the actions of one officer in the Floyd case have led to misperceptions about law enforcement in general and made their jobs harder when their intent is to serve the public.

“Talking to kids early shows we’re here to help,” he said. “I told them we’re not here to profile, we don’t like to take people to jail and we don’t like to use force.”

A former South High star who played college ball at Wooster, Cooper uses basketball as a way to reach kids; in addition to attending education sessions, Brake the Cycle kids also play hoops. Wheeler, a former Greenon High player, has known Cooper for years, and it sparked the idea of a game as a way of bringing the community together.

“It’s a time for law enforcement and citizens to channel their energy and a chance to see a different side of law enforcement,” said Cooper.

The Brake the Cycle team will have two adults, two bigger kids and a smaller one on the floor at different times along with a kid helping to coach. The law enforcement team will bring five Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputies, two Springfield Police Department officers and three Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers, one a former Ohio State football player.

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The rules will be simple: No fouling the kids, smile and have fun. And don’t expect a scoreboard as the points won’t matter.

“Our mission is not basketball, it’s to help young men be successful. Basketball is just part of it,” Cooper said.

He hinted his team may have a few special plays to surprise their opponents. Other attractions will include a live DJ and Brake the Cycle bracelets will be for sale to support the program.

Wheeler hopes this is a chance for people to see law enforcement in a different light, and his appearance at the club meeting wasn’t a one-and-done, encouraging Cooper to have the kids call if they need him.

“I hope the community comes together to show support for both sides,” he said. “We want to show there are good law enforcement officers out here.”

Since its debut in late 2020, Brake the Cycle has about 12 participants at its weekly sessions and 25 total. Cooper is pleased to continue getting referrals for new members, and in addition to support from the law enforcement community, area colleges including Wittenberg and Cedarville are getting involved.

The “Bridging the Gap” game is just the beginning of the program’s community involvement. Cooper has plans for doing community service and a banquet this summer, with future ideas including a talent show, block party and “Fortnight” gaming event.

The group will also visit Ohio State University to show the kids what pursuing higher education is like as some have no idea. Cooper said leaving here for college was an eye-opening experience for him.

Future basketball games may also be in the mix against teams from Springfield City Schools and Springfield Regional Medical Center, at least annually if not more often.

“There’s a lot of talking, but we will make things happen and make it better here,” Cooper said.

For more information on Brake the Cycle or the game, visit its Facebook page.

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