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Mayor Evans presents check to PAL

Mayor George Evans and the Selma City Council donated $1,025 to the Selma Police Athletic League on Tuesday.

Because players do not play for uniforms, food or travel fees, the cost of running the program can become prohibitive.

The money came from discretionary funds, and Evans called the donation an investment in the future.

“It’s an excellent program. The staff out there does an outstanding job,” Evans said.

The PAL gym doesn’t look like much, but the gray court with fading paint has a profound ability to affect young people.

Cortland Henry, 17, first began coming to the PAL center as an 8-year-old, eager to learn something other than street justice.

Now he has come full circle, playing the role of teacher to the girls’ basketball team.

“It’s easy to teach because you’re teaching them the things you were already taught,” said Henry, a standout basketball player himself. “It’s fun. Well, it’s fun when they listen to you.”

It’s like that for several young people, especially the ones who don’t see anything outside Selma. Sgt. Willie Billingsley said the first time some of the players leave the city is when they travel for tournaments.

Taking trips out of town or even out of state is fine, but the students also learn a sense of community.

“We try to do things to let them know there’s things out there other than gangs,” Billingsley said. “We have people from all different schools, but once they set foot in here, it’s all Selma PAL.”

It is not just a basketball program, however. Detective Dorothy Cowan, Selma PAL director, said the staff does several things to help the students develop as citizens.

“This is an after school program,” Cowan said. “They do homework, and we try to get someone periodically to come in here and talk to them about losing, what’s going on in life and doing the best they can.”

Just as importantly, the students learn that police are in the community to help people, not to antagonize them.

Reaching children at a young age can hopefully divert problems when they reach adolescence or adulthood.

“The police can’t operate without interaction with the public,” said PAL supervisor Sgt. Johnny King. “We want to let them know that the police truly are their friends.”