Manatee PAL’s mission is to bring law enforcement, kids and families together in a positive, safe environment through sports and academics to build a strong community.
Many youth in Manatee County live in neighborhoods threatened by gangs, drugs, violence and poverty. The Manatee Sheriff’s Office reports that the most prevalent youth crimes are assault, burglary and vandalism. Studies show that youth engaged with law enforcement officers and other adult mentors are less likely to become involved in these types of crime. Manatee PAL provides a safe place where athletics and academic reinforcement instill pride, responsibility, self-confidence, teamwork and respect.
“It is almost like an IMG (Academy) without the price tag,” said Gina Spicer, Director of Programs and the ‘face’ of the organization in the community. “We strive to be the most affordable and outstanding sports program in Manatee County.”
With over 400 volunteer mentors in the program, PAL provides many opportunities for youth to learn and grow. College scholarships can be the roadmap out of circumstances that prohibit success. PAL athletes often receive college sports and academic scholarships to pursue their education after high school.
The program is attracting outstanding volunteers, such as Brian Poole, Atlanta Falcons cornerback, who recently coached a youth football camp for PAL. Brian was a graduate of Southeast High in Bradenton and a PAL participant.
Gina has a long roster of players similar to Brian coaching the kids. She’s also very proud of the police deputies that volunteer to head up the basketball and football programs. Deputy Francine Houston was a PAL student years back and went on to college basketball on a scholarship. She’s Director of Basketball. Deputy Ralph Bryant has been at PAL 15 years and serves as Director of Football.
The children, often afraid of law enforcement, come to see them as mentors rather than threats. PAL has a no tolerance approach with no gang affiliation, no drugs and they must maintain good grades.
And what is basketball and football without cheerleaders?! PAL also has a cheerleading team coached by a volunteer mom. Unlike public school sports teams, PAL takes a one-on-one approach with their youth with only 30 kids to a team, compared to hundreds in schools. According to Gina, scouts are even taking interest in the exceptional athletes in the PAL program.
Baseball and hockey are also being offered and PAL subcontracts those programs out. Football, including flag football, is full and running. Basketball registration is currently underway at $65 for the season and scholarships are available. Donations from the community help disadvantaged families. Children ages five to 15 are invited.
One major fundraiser of the year – the PAL Golf Classic – is taking place May 7, 2018 at the Ritz-Carlton. “This is one of the most upscale tournaments in town,” Gina said. “The prizes are fantastic.”
Situated on a 37-acre site home to charter school Team Success (an A-rated school), Manatee PAL is located at 207 13th Avenue East, Bradenton. To donate or volunteer with PAL or for more information on Manatee Police Athletic League, call 941-747-1118, ext. 209 or visit the website at www.manateepal.org.
Photos courtesy of Manatee PAL