Ten-year-old Malachi Releford shadow-boxes in the middle of a boxing ring at Without Walls Church in east Fort Worth.
He jabs, bobs and weaves as he dances around the canvas ring.
Just a few days after Christmas, the youngster was occupied with boxing — and not standing on a street corner or being bored at home. With tensions high between police and communities, area leaders and police officials say the timing is right for the new Fort Worth Police Athletic League to work to unite neighborhoods with police officers through youth programs.
I want to spend time on the basketball court, instead of juvenile court.
Fort Worth Officer Allen Speed
They hope to reach kids like Malachi through the nonprofit league offering programs such as boxing and flag football. The league is expected to start next month
The Police Athletic League officials said the events, which will be for boys and girls, could expand to golf, basketball, volleyball, baseball and other activities.
“I want to spend time on the basketball court, instead of juvenile court,” Fort Worth Officer Allen Speed said in a recent interview. Speed is a director on the P.A.L. board.
P.A.L. coach and former professional boxer Kendrick “The Apostle” Releford agreed.
“It’s a perfect time to build a relationship between police and inner city kids,” Releford said Tuesday. “Not all officers are bad, and this program will prove that.”
Police departments from New York to Los Angeles have had similar youth programs for years. Irving and Dallas police are among North Texas departments that have them.
They work to help prevent juvenile crime and violence by building relationships among kids, cops and neighborhoods.
The youth programs began with sporting events, but have broadened to include arts and crafts, dance, music, drama, social services, vocational guidance, remedial reading and field trips.
In the past, Fort Worth police established youth activities in neighborhoods on their own. As a result, a neighborhood on the south side might have a youth event while a community in west Fort Worth didn’t, officials said.
The police league will involve the entire city. For months, Fort Worth police and community leaders have been recruiting volunteers, getting business sponsors and raising money for the league, which will operate after school and during the summer.
Police officials said funding is through donations. Officers and community leaders already have raised more than $30,000 since the league was formed last summer.
Police officials said the main goal will be to help more kids to avoid the pressures of being left home alone or on the street.
“In certain cases, boundaries have existed between community youths and police,” said Officer Charles Rogers, board president of the Fort Worth Police Athletic League, on Wednesday. “When we work with kids in P.A.L., it will show them that we are human.”
Support for the league has come from throughout the city. Boxing coach Harry Washington is set to use his boxing gym at Fight Kingz MMA for the league. Pastor Orlando Reyes, at Without Walls Church in east Fort Worth, donated space on the second floor of the church for a P.A.L. boxing ring.
“It was an opportunity reach kids before the gangs get ahold of them,” Reyes said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
A third boxing facility could be operating in a few weeks on the city’s north side.
Sign up via email
Police and community leaders said they hope they can recruit about 100 kids ages 8 to 18 for the boxing league. They are working with the Fort Worth school district and Fort Worth’s Park and Recreation Department.
Starting at the end of January, parents will be able to go to the gyms to sign up their kids or to do so using the league’s email, email@example.com.
Once signed up, kids will be issued identification cards and, for those in school, officials will check report cards.
“Those who have failing grades will be restricted in the gym,” police Sgt. Buck Wheeler said Wednesday. He is the secretary on the Fort Worth P.A.L. board.
For kids who want to get in shape, there will be no fees, but there will be some costs for those who want to compete in local tournaments and progress to regional and national boxing events.
“You have to work very hard at this,” Malachi Releford said Tuesday as he took a short break from his boxing workout. “But I like it. Boxing and football are about equal with me right now.”
Malachi Releford is the son of boxing coach Kendrick “The Apostle” Releford.
“I really didn’t want him to box,” Kendrick Releford said. “But he kept telling me he wanted to get in the ring, so I’m coaching him now.”
Police Athletic League officials say they have already started to create a flag football league, scheduled to begin in the spring. An estimated 750 kids, coaches and volunteers are expected to participate, police officials said.
For more information, call 817-944-2725. The league also is on Facebook: fortworthpoliceathleticleague.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication from members, volunteers and kids,” Rogers said. “Even from families because they will have to make the effort to bring them to the gyms or events, but we hope to set a new mark here in Fort Worth with this program.”
Families wanting to register their children and businesses wanting to sponsor teams can get more information on the police league by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 817-944-2725.
The league also is on Facebook: fortworthpoliceathleticleague.