Courtney Smith relished the opportunity to spend Saturday afternoon in sneakers and gym clothes alongside fellow police officers to renew a friendly basketball rivalry against Greenwood middle and high schoolers.
Smith, an investigator with the 8th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, coordinated with Sean Mims to put on the second Cops vs. Hoopers event at the Brewer Recreation Center. Mims is a teacher and coach at Brewer Middle School and founder of the education group HoopsEdu.
Mims and Smith are longtime friends and want to use the event to help bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement.
“Basically, we’re just trying to break the ice, and build that bridge,” Smith said. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 13 years, and we can’t improve without hearing from the community, and the community can’t do anything without hearing from us. We need each other. That’s how I look at it.”
Smith said the event came at an important time following a recent rise in gun violence and crime in Greenwood. He wants this event to build a positive relationship with the community, and he cited Josh Norman’s Teen Center as a way to steer youth away from violence and crime.
“We’ve had our fair share of bad times, but Greenwood’s still a good place,” Smith said. “There’s still some good things going on in Greenwood. You take this event, and also what Josh Norman is doing. If we have people supporting, Greenwood’s going to be alright. I believe that the good will always outweigh the bad.”
Smith said he’s already seen the event build strong relationships between law enforcement and the youth.
“The bond has gotten closer, and that ice has been broken,” Smith said. “That was the main objective last year, breaking that ice, and I think that has been done. They’re more open with us, and that’s a good thing. They need to know who we are, and we need to know who they are.”
The middle and high school teams combined to secure a 68-41 win against the cops team, their second consecutive victory in the event. Greenwood High students Cobe Johnson, Erianna Wardlaw and Malik Burt, and Emerald High student Amari Goodman all had strong showings in the game.
Mims, who played college basketball at Lander, said he’s seen in his career that sports can serve as a way to bring people together, regardless of background.
“Our youth enjoy the interaction on and off the court with law enforcement,” Mims said. “They get to have that friendly competition but also see a different side of the law enforcement as well.”
Mims said he wants the kids to come away from the event knowing that they can develop and maintain a positive relationship with law enforcement.
“The law enforcement is on their side,” Mims said. “When there’s things going on in their life with school and the community, we want them more comfortable just talking to law enforcement, instead of shying away from them.”
Mims said some of that comfort level has been reached. He saw more interaction between students and law enforcement during the 2018-19 school year.
“Even when you see students at different sporting events, there’s a positive interaction with the officers they connected with at last year’s event,” Mims said. “We want to keep that up.”
Mims added that he and Smith are already brainstorming different aspects they can bring in to improve next year’s event.
“I’m just glad to be a part of this,” Mims said. “Courtney’s a great partner, and we owe it all to the youth and law enforcement coming together and taking their time out to make this happen.”