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Students host basketball friendly with Erie youth, EPD

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Erie city youth are gearing up for a full court press from the Erie Police Department in a basketball friendly at the Booker T. Washington Center Wednesday.

The game, which will pit five police officers against a team of young men who frequent the BTW Center, is the brainchild of three criminal justice seniors at Mercyhurst University: Trista Hellyer of Waterford, and Alicia Harrison and Dominic Paolucci, both of Cleveland, Ohio.

The students chose the event as part of a senior seminar course taught by Dr. Maria Garase, in which they were assigned to organize a  service learning project in the community.

“We wanted to do something to build a good relationship between inner-city youth and the police,” Hellyer said. “We thought the game would help build trust between the two groups.”

Meanwhile, Harrison is friends with Bob Nance, better known in the hoops circuit as “Uncle Bob,” one of the most sought after youth basketball coaches in Northeast Ohio. He coached Harrison in high school through his nonprofit, Bob Nance Basketball Academy, and she helps coach for him now. She says he coached Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James when he was a kid.

Nance accepted Harrison’s invitation to talk to players before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. game at the BTW Center.

“There’s been so much negative news in the media and on the internet about the relationship between police and the communities they serve that we wanted to do something positive,” Harrison said.

She said the game was actually Paolucci’s idea. He had seen a story on the internet in which basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal and several police officers showed up for a pickup game on a Florida street with a group of kids, and how inspired everyone was by that encounter.

Besides Nance’s talk and the basketball game, Mercyhurst dancers are working with a newly formed dance team at the BTW Center to stage a half-time show.