Thursday afternoon’s 7-on-7 flag football game at Gainesville High between the GHS football team and the Gainesville Police Department wasn’t just a game.
It also wasn’t about winning and losing.
The score wasn’t as important as the cause.
“Let’s stop violence,” said Tony Jones, Chief of Police for the Gainesville Police Department. “That’s what the theme of this event is. Let’s stop violence in Gainesville.”
The purpose of the event was also to build strong community relationships.
“We have to build a rapport with our young people in Gainesville,” Jones said. “They are our future. We want to show young people that we are human, just like everybody else.”
“We want people in the community to get to know our community police officers,” said city of Gainesville Commissioner David Arreola. “We’ve had a rough summer. Teenagers have been victims of some really awful violence in our city, gun violence, and we want our kids, our students, our teenagers, to know that we care about them.”
Jones said rookie police officer Kelvin Mattair, who has only been on the force for three months, approached him and said, “let’s do something for the young people, let’s do something with the young people, and they came up with this concept and I said roll with it.”
Mattair is hoping that this event is the first of many to come.
“There’s been an increase of violence in the neighborhoods, and this is a way for us to start something new and build a relationship with the community,” Mattair said. “Without the community there is no police department.”
He said it takes a collective effort between the community and the police officers to “clean up the streets.”
“We need their help as much as they need our’s,” he explained. “We’re just trying to bridge that gap.”
While the event was fun, it also showed that Gainesville police officers are human beings.
“Any time we lose one person to violence, that’s one too many,” said Lonnie Scott, Assistant Chief of Police for the Gainesville Police Department. “The fact that we are having fun (today) and interacting with folks that are several years, if not decades younger, shows that we can find a common cause and we can work together as a community and be one.”
Gainesville City Commissioner Reina Saco said the event was an opportunity to get the youth engaged in alternate activities.
“Having the police do that reinforces that there are positive role models who are accessible to you who are people just like you who want to be engaged in the community,” she said. “If you don’t have a good role model at home or at school, building relationships like this gives kids the comfort to turn to someone else.”
As for the game?
Gainesville’s Shamon “Shooby” Coleman threw bookend touchdown passes to lead GHS to a 30-14 win.
“It was a real good experience,” he said. “We had a lot of fun today. It shows that police really don’t hate us. They really love us, and they want to see better for us.”
The Hurricanes’ Brent King was the first recipient on the opening drive of the game, while Ryan Nolan caught the final touchdown in the second half after the GPD had closed the gap to 22-14 late in the half, so Coleman re-entered the game.
Officer Melvin Brown connected with Lenard Rivers for the GPD’s first score, followed by a long scoring pass from Brown to Jake Marcotte.
“Any time that the law enforcement officials can get together with the community and have a good event, it represents a symbol of unity and I think we need to see more of that,” said Gainesville football coach Dock Pollard. “Today, everybody wins. Gainesville High School wins, and the Alachua County community wins.”