Remember that video that went viral in 2016 of the Gainesville police officer called to the scene of kids playing basketball too “loudly?” Instead of reprimanding the kids, Officer Bobby White joined the game and the moment was recorded on his dash cam. This simple and kind example of true community policing has become a movement, and has arrived in Marathon.
On Wednesday, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the Basketball Cop Foundation and the Nancy Lieberman Charities staged a ribbon-cutting at the Marathon Rec Center.
The $35,000 worth of court and equipment replaces the aged sports stuff that was old even before the storm. The space is beautiful, and the kids love it.
“The kids are pretty excited, but to be honest, I’m really excited too,” said Anthony Culver, who runs the Marathon Rec Center with his wife, Diane. It provides after-school care for the elementary age children who are schooled right next door at Stanley Switlik Elementary. Culver himself has been there for 26 years — “Now I have the children of some of the children I started with.”
And while the new space is beautiful, the story of how it came to be is positively heart-warming. It started with a local Sheriff officer, ranged to the Basketball Cop Foundation founded by White (the guy in the video) and grew to include Nancy Lieberman Charities (more on her later). In the meantime, the effort picked up speed with the help of The Home Depot in Marathon and the City of Marathon.
The star of this show, though, is Monroe County Sheriff Office’s Sgt. James Hager. Originally from the Gainesville area, the officer has been in the Keys for four years. When he was promoted to sergeant pre-storm, he was tasked with arranging a community service project for the squad. He picked kids and sports.
“I really appreciate the policing philosophy in Monroe County,” Hager said. “There is a real commitment to community with the cleanups and covering up graffiti.”
Hager started out with a phone call to Gainesville, his old stomping ground, asking Officer White for a small donation of sporting equipment — nets, basketballs and footballs. After the storm, the squad grew the project’s scope. Hager and his squad decided to fix up the Marathon Rec Center with a new coat of paint, some new fencing and landscaping.
But when White learned about the Keys’ sad situation, he made a hard choice. He called up Nancy Lieberman and told her he wanted to pay it forward — the court that had been promised to the kids in Gainesville was needed more in Marathon.
Lieberman is known as “Lady Magic,” a nod to Earvin “Magic” Johnson. She has played in the Olympics, World Championships and Pan American Games. She has been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Currently, she is an assistant coach for the Sacrament Kings, the second female to hold that position in the history of the NBA. Oh, and when she was 50 years old in 2008, she made history as the oldest player in league history when she signed a seven-day contract with the Detroit Shock.
And so on Jan. 24, the group that had gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony was sitting on a brand new Dream Court It’s a special synthetic flooring pre-marked with court lines that is designed to be easier on the joints and last forever. Lieberman talked to the crowd about the power of sports and her faith. And she had a little surprise up her sleeve for Officer White.
“I’m going to make sure you get your court, too,” she said.
Lieberman then officially opened the court with a backwards over-the-head shot from center court. She nailed it on the first try. The crowd cheered and before the cries died down, the kids of the Marathon Rec Center had already plundered the box of new basketballs and were racing back onto the court to shoot hoops.
“Kids who do not trust or respect the police are less likely to report being a victim of a crime and even less likely to come forward as a witness of a crime. It is a fact that kids who have no reason to respect the law or the officers in their community are far more likely to commit juvenile crimes themselves. I believe that the only way that we, as police officers, are going to repair these relationships is by proactively going out into the communities and interacting with the kids in a positive manner.” – Officer Bobby White
About Basketball Cop Foundation:
This nonprofit organization is dedicated to building relationships between our country’s Law Enforcement and the youth in our communities through trust. Through partnerships, it has established or refurbished courts in 18 states. Basketballcop.net
About Nancy Lieberman Charities:
This nonprofit is funded by donations and committed to promoting and developing healthy lifestyles and educational opportunities for young girls and boys, especially for disadvantaged youth. nancyliebermancharities.org
The Dream Court on display is a loaner from tennis star Martina Navratilova. The new court will feature local logos. Shipment was delayed by weather.