Omaha police are teaching kids how to pitch, hit and run the bases, to keep them from running the streets.
That’s part of the PACE (Police Athletics for Community Engagement) program, in which police officers and volunteers work with inner-city kids who wouldn’t normally participate in organized sports because of costs or family situations.
On Wednesday, the PACE program held its second night of baseball and soccer clinics in South Omaha, teaching kids the basics of the sports.
“A lot of these kids – most of them have never played baseball before. If they’ve played baseball, it’s been in our program,” says Saul Soltero, a volunteer couch and former professional baseball player.
The program focuses primarily on youth from North and South Omaha, serving hundreds of kids ages 8-14. Last year, PACE had nearly 1,900 kids on the soccer fields alone.
This year, PACE is working to recruit even more kids to play baseball for the summer.
"We have more than enough kids for soccer so right now, we’re focusing particularly on kids from North Omaha because it's just being introduced in the last four years so we're getting a lot of traction and more participation but we need more kids, especially for baseball,” said Sgt. Ken Fox from the Omaha Police Department.
"We want these kids on our baseball fields. We're pulling these kids off the streets. I have seen Officer Espejo stop his car and recruit two kids that were crossing the street, brought them in and said, ‘hey, do you want to play baseball?’ and next thing you know, they're playing baseball on Friday nights,” said Soltero.
Joining PACE comes at no cost to families. They also provide transportation for kids from North Omaha to South Omaha for games.
"We will never turn away any child, whether you're North, South, East, West - we want all children because at the end of the day, the focus is the positive interaction between police and our youth,” said Fox. “We want to keep building those relationships between youth and police officers.”
Fox also highlighted the importance of having young girls involved in athletics.
"We all know the importance of young women playing sports and having that camaraderie and how that translates into confidence and that confidence can translate into the lowering of domestic violence, things like that so we definitely want our young ladies coming out,” said Fox. “We want to see more girls on the field.”
The official season for PACE begins the second week of June. You can visit the PACE website for more information on the summer league.