The students of the Healthy Learning Academy always pictured law enforcement officers solving crimes and catching the bad guys — until they played basketball with them.
Parents of the charter school, located at 13505 W. Newberry Road, raised more than $10,000 to put in a concrete basketball court through a GoFundMe page, hosting a silent auction and selling butter braids. Additionally, a UF health intern donated $1,000 and one of the parents of a student, who is a contractor, gave the school a discount for the concrete pad. The Basketball Cop Foundation donated and installed a new basketball hoop to accompany it.
To celebrate this new gift, between 12 and 15 deputies from the Alachua County Sheriff’s office came out to the school to play basketball and cook with the students. Some played kickball or cooked lunch with them by the playground, but each grade level had an equal amount of time to play with the officers on the new court.
The Basketball Cop Foundation was created by Gainesville police officer Robert “Basketball Cop” White to help generate resources and funds for community police efforts across the United States in 2016. White earned his nickname after responding to a noise complaint for a kids’ basketball game and deciding to play with the noisemakers.
One of its main goals is to encourage interaction between law enforcement and citizens to build trust and positive relationships within the community, according to the Basketball Cop Foundation website.
It is the first time the foundation worked with the Healthy Learning Academy, said Suzanne Borganelli, principal of the charter school.
“The children had a wonderful time, especially because the cops brought them hot dogs,” she said.
White said he was happy to donate the basketball hoop to the kids and to have fellow officers interacting with the youth.
“Anytime that we have an opportunity to do something like this, that gives us a platform to bring law enforcement out to interact with the kids,” White said. “We jump all over it.”
The officers stayed for about two and a half hours, and they gave three red, white and blue basketballs to the children. They were very generous with their time and gifts, Borganelli said.
“The kids absolutely loved it,” Borganelli said. “We’re just really thrilled about how everything turned out.”
Borganelli said one student thanked an officer at the end for teaching her how to play basketball. This is the first court installed at the school, so this experience not only gave students the ability to develop relationships with the officers but also learn how to dribble, she said.
“It was really nice that these students had this opportunity and felt safe,” Borganelli said. “It’s all about safety in our schools now.”