Gaston County football coaches ride along with police to help prevent violence
“I mean, as a coach, it’s not just about coaching the kid to be good at football,” one coach said.
GASTONIA, N.C. (WBTV) - A group of Gaston County football coaches are taking time off the field to make a difference and deter violence in their community.
Since late May, WBTV has reported on at least two shootings and two deaths in the Highland community in Gastonia – an area in which some of the coaches grew up.
Last year, they say there was a lot of chaos involving youth and fireworks.
They wanted to help prevent that from happening again this year, but they also wanted to see what’s going on with youth outside of school hours.
While you were watching fireworks on July 4, the coaches were taking a ride along with Gastonia Police.
“Everybody knows in our community the trust for police is at a low, and for me to be able to tell my kids to trust the police, then I have to 100 percent trust the police,” Darius James, football coach at Ashbrook High, said.
Growing up in the Highland area, James, along with Hunter Huss coach Randy Thompson, know about the history of violence involving youth.
“They don’t have any ulterior things to look forward to - something to get involved with - and that’s one of the reasons myself, Coach Brewer, Coach James, other coaches in the area, community leaders – that’s why we’ve come together – many of the pastors – trying to find things for these young people to do, so they’re not joining gangs or resulting in violence,” Thompson said.
To get there, they wanted to also better understand what police are dealing with on their end.
“For me, it was all about just kind of bridging that gap, getting a better understanding of what all they go through, at the same time, letting them know what we as coaches hear,” North Gaston coach Jabari Brewer said.
Brewer and the other coaches wear many hats and play many roles.
Their involvement in the lives of youth outside of school is critical.
“I mean, as a coach, it’s not just about coaching the kid to be good at football,” Brewer said. “It’s really teaching them life skills.”
That means being a role model even if it’s off the field.
“I think there were youth shooting fireworks at one of the officers’ cars, so I know when myself, Coach James, I believe Coach Brewer was on the other side of the neighborhood - when we pulled up, it was a large crowd, and slowly but surely, I think the word started to spread there was a Huss and Ashbrook coach sitting in the police cars, and slowly but surely, you start seeing youth kind of disperse,” Thompson said while reflecting on the ridealong.
Their visibility, Gastonia Police Department’s Rick Goodale said, could help the community as a whole.
“They have that built in trust factor so when we can partner with these individuals, these leaders in the community, it really benefits everybody,” Goodale said.
Going forward, Thompson wants to have a sit-down with community leaders and youth and come up with solutions from there.
“A lot of young people, the one thing they’ll tell you is they feel like nobody is listening to them,” Thompson said.
They want to present youth with new, meaningful opportunities.
“Being able to have police officers that look like those in that community could be something to bridge that gap as well,” James said.
Brewer also said that he talked to police about programs helping kids who may be interested in getting into law enforcement and potentially inviting officers into schools.
The coaches have a number of ideas to continue this conversation and foster that relationship between police and the community.
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