ESSEX — Inside the gymnasium of the Back River Community Center on Aug. 11, Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski shot, dribbled and rebounded in a 3-on-3 basketball game played on a half court with a team of staff from the executive office. He, along with local law enforcement, was there to enjoy and show his support of a regional-based basketball tournament that was organized by his office, the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks and the Baltimore County Police Department.
“It is important to me and for the kids of the community, and their parents and families, to see that it is not just words, but a physical presence,” Olszewski said. “This event is indicative of our commitment to re-engage with Essex and connect with young people from the community.”
About a month and a half ago, Olszewski met with schools and community organizations in Essex and listened to their concerns, and a problem a lot of people had was a lack of engagement activities and events, and a lack of recreational services for youth.
So, one of the projects that came out of that meeting was a double-elimination basketball tournament, and after the parks and recreation department launched a marketing campaign targeted primarily toward youth and teens, nearly 100 people across multiple age groups signed up to play.
“Parks and Rec is taking a more concerted interest and investment in special events, and the county executive has supported delivering more programs into the community,” director Roslyn Johnson said, adding that the department also wants to provide opportunities for all children to play sports regardless of economic status.
“Here, if you show up, you can play,” she said. “The goal is to get youth out, engaged and active, and get parents and the community involved.”
Another benefit of the tournament, according to Johnson, is that it is a chance for police officers to build relationships with the community. Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt and other local law enforcement officers attended on Aug. 11, met with community members, watched and even participated in some of the games.
“Our hope is that young adults who may not have a great impression of law enforcement will get to meet people behind the uniform and change their perspective,” Hyatt said.
Throughout the week, police officers performed demonstrations with helicopters, dogs and marine unit patrols.
“Sports brings people together,” Hyatt said. “It is exciting to see so many people come out and engage in a collaborative activity.”