Los Angeles: The Watts Bears football team may not be the most familiar sports team around, but it has steadily grown and blossomed into a dynamic and rewarding experience for officers and the inner-city youth who comprise the team.
Started three years ago by LAPD Officer Zarren Thompson, the Watts Bears was an attempt to engage at-risk, South Los Angeles boys away from the pitfalls of inner-city life into a football team; a chance to focus on teamwork, building trust, physical fitness and personal challenge. And the payoff continues to grow.
In the beginning, Officer Thompson literally went door-to-door to recruit team members. He was often met with extreme skepticism by both parents and the boys he was trying to contact, even though the program was totally free and included team uniforms. Annie McKnight, one of the parents whose son is now an active Watts Bears team player, admitted she wasn’t sure if she could trust the police officers in charge of the team when she was first approached. Gradually, however, Officer Thompson and his fellow officers were able to build trust in the community and get more boys to join the team.
The Watts Bears has been so successful that Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel of HBO Sports recently profiled the team. Thompson is thrilled with the program’s success and the way it has increased the boys’ trust in police officers. “This thing is working big-time,” he says.
To view the Real Sports segment, Click Here