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When police officers writing incident reports want to formally indicate a criminal incident, they put an “O” or Ocean on the report. Last Friday morning on the 800 block of Clarence, half a dozen Oak Park squad cars were parked outside the entrance to Ascension School. But none of the eight or nine cops present inside ever filled out a police report. If they had, the report filed would have to be marked with a “B.” As in basketball.

Dressed in shorts and T-shirts, the only chasing these officers were doing was up and down the basketball court.

In its sixteenth season, the Oak Park Police annual youth basketball camp, which is offered at no cost to those who apply, is more popular than ever.

“We got an overwhelming response,” said Sgt. Bill Rygh of the community policing division. “We had to trim the list down from 60 applicants, and I got maybe eight more calls about it,” said Rygh.

The camp, which is run by officers from the community policing division, is an opportunity for kids to have fun, learn some skills and interact with and get to know police in a relaxed setting.

“Our goal is they learn some basketball, or improve their game, have fun, and get to know the officers,’ said Rygh.

Much of Monday is taken up with registration and skills assessment, as well as team assignments, in addition to warm ups and drills. The camp gets to be more fun as the week goes on, with daily skill drills, competitive games, and giveaways.

Every participant gets a free basketball, and a host of other treats.

On Tuesday the kids work on the basics – dribbling, passing, shooting and lay-ups. Wednesday morning, tactical officer Tony Kass stopped by after his midnight shift to give the “referee’s perspective.” Kass, a grade school and high school referee who administers the local grade school basketball league, showed up in his ref’s uniform, ball in hand. He gave his audience a presentation on what is expected on the court during games and then he took questions. Later that morning, a representative from the Oak Park health department stopped by for a presentation on basic personal hygiene and nutrition.

On Friday morning, the nutrition involved pizza and pop following spirited games between the kids and cops. Rygh said none of it would have been possible without sponsorship from such groups as the Oak Park Township Youth Services, the Rotary Club and Sahagian and Associates.

“The sponsors were really great this year,” he said. “The Chicago Bulls gave us a lot of memorabilia. Water bottles, hats, T-shirts. Every year they overwhelm us with this stuff.”
All the officers involved with the program, from the command staff to the beat officers, express pretty much the same appreciation for the program-it’s a chance to relax, have fun and show their personal side a bit.
This year’s camp featured most of the school resource and resident beat officers, some of whom, like Zone 5 RBO Paul Razzino, were unable to be present last year due to policing assignments. Razzino said he enjoys the relaxed interaction with kids he’ll see on the street the rest of the year. “I go around town and I see kids in the camp T-shirts,” he said. “And they wave and smile.”

Not that the cops go easy on everyone in the cops-on-kids games. High school resource officer Eric Locke noted somewhat wryly that all the younger kids somehow managed to beat the cops in basketball. The older guys, however, were a different story.

“We weren’t going to let that happen with the bigger guys,” Locke said with a smile.

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