BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. -- Raise 'em up right: That's what police in Blue Springs favor, and officers are on the job this week, using their knowledge of sports to teach character lessons to local teenagers.
"I refuse to win at the cost of being someone I can't be proud of," Blue Springs Police Officer Alex Smith said while speaking to a group of middle-schoolers.
Powerful messages are being delivered inside Wilbur Young Park, which sits just beside Blue Springs South High School. Six Blue Springs officers, including Smith, are conducting the department's first-ever Life Sports Camp.
Camp opened Monday, as 36 local middle school-aged boys came to play flag football with those police officers, while learning how to be a positive part of their community.
The ballgames take a backseat to some big lessons from Smith, who has been a police officer for more than five years.
"You have to learn to work together and trust each other," Smith said while addressing the three dozen campers. "Who you are sticks no matter what you're doing."
In his five years as an officer, including time spent as a school resource officer at Moreland Ridge Middle School, he's befriended many of these 13-year-old boys, and at times, he said he's also been their gym class teammate.
Smith decided to begin this summer educational camp after he realized how beneficial the lessons he learned from playing team sports had been to his own life.
"When I was growing up, I didn't really know any police officers," Smith said. "We want to get to know them. Give them some information. Some quality information about drugs and alcohol, about suicide prevention, about having a health relationship with someone."
Smith said it's easier to invest time in young people now, as opposed to when they'd face larger penalties as adults. He also said middle school is the perfect point in life to work with teenagers, but unfortunately, some of them already have a negative image of law enforcement officers.
Campers, such as 13-year-old Markel Childress, are among the young men who say this camp is their chance to add to their developing maturity as they learn about respect, sportsmanship and showing respect for both women and police officers.
"I believe all the respect you give them, you'll get the same respect back. If you come with a negative attitude, they'll come at you with a negative attitude," Markel said.
"People say (police officers) are all criticizing and stuff like that," 13-year-old Jack Brickhouse told FOX4. "They're not all what they say they're like. They're just trying to have fun and teach us to play sports."
The education from this recreation may not be realized for years. There`s a strong chance some of these teenagers will come into contact with police as adults. Smith said he believes these kids will remember that cops are merely doing their jobs.
The camp continues all week at Wilbur Young Park, but officers say all the vacancies for campers are filled for this year. In late May, Blue Springs Police held a similar camp called Girls on Fire, which aims to build positive experiences for young women in Blue Springs.