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Basketball diplomacy at Bromley-Heath

Police, teens find common ground

Demarius Dorsey, 14, watched police officers and local players battle for the ball during a game yesterday at Bromley-Heath. Demarius Dorsey, 14, watched police officers and local players battle for the ball during a game yesterday at Bromley-Heath. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)
By Stewart Bishop
Globe Correspondent / June 27, 2011

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On sun-drenched basketball courts in Jamaica Plain yesterday, a young neighborhood team was making short work of the Boston Police Department until, in a dramatic last-minute push, the men in blue came from behind to win the first game of the day.

Despite the loss on their home court, the teens seemed to harbor no hard feelings, as both teams made postgame small talk over bottles of water against the backdrop of the sprawling, orange-brick Bromley-Heath housing development.

That was what organizers of the Meet the Face Behind the Badge tournament had in mind.

“Basketball has a way of uniting people,’’ Sergeant Henry Staines, 43, said after the game.

Staines said that meeting young people on the basketball court has the potential to foster better relationships down the road,

“There’s a different level of conversation; there’s more of a unified level of conversation, basketball being a commonality,’’ Staines said. “They don’t have any fear of talking to me when I’m in uniform [later] or what the perception might be because they’re talking to the police. They’re just talking to someone who was playing ball with them.’’

The tournament featured 14 men’s and two women’s teams from nearby neighborhoods and several public safety agencies.

Several youngsters were killed or wounded at the Bromley-Heath courts in recent years.

In May 2010, 14-year-old honors student Jaewon Martin was shot to death on a Saturday afternoon before Mother’s Day, as he returned home from shopping for gifts to give his mother and grandmother. A friend of Martin’s was also shot but survived.

In 2007, Luis Gerena Jr., 13, was shot and killed after he stepped off the Orange Line on his way to his grandmother’s house. Authorities believe that, in both cases, the boys were the innocent victims of a feud between rival gangs.

Yesterday, participants and organizers sought to distance themselves from the violence and focus on building relationships in the community.

One Bromley player, Kristofer Garcia, 19, said that despite his team’s loss, he thought the tournament was a good way to combat the perception that everyone who lives in a housing development is mixed up in gangs or destructive behavior.

“I know a lot of people on the outside of these projects that don’t like to come through here because of the stereotypes they hear about killing and robbing and stuff like that,’’ Garcia said as trains from a nearby T station rumbled underneath the court. “So if the cops can still come here and play, [if] we can all come together as one and play in a tournament like this, it makes us feel safe.’’

Jacqueline Furtado, program director for Bromley-Heath and founder of the tournament, said it is all about participants getting to know one another.

“It’s taken down a lot of barriers,’’ Furtado said. “And you can take this outside of here. If you’re in downtown Boston, you might see someone you played with, and that goes a long way. A lot of the guys know the [police] by name. It’s good to have that kind of collaboration.

The coach of the Bromley-Heath team agreed and said that even though his team lost, the day was worth it.

“It’s a good tournament; everybody in the community comes out,’’ said Dawan Searcy, 19, of Jamaica Plain. “We play the police to see them in a different way. With the badge off, you can see them as a regular person and not just a police officer.’’

Garcia said the success of the day was also due to one other factor: love of the game.

“We just love ball,’’ Garcia said. “That’s one thing we can all connect on.’’

Stewart Bishop can be reached at sbishop@globe.com.