Gaston County football coaches ride with police to deter violence

GASTONIA, NC (WBTV) – A group of Gaston County football coaches are taking the time to make a difference and prevent violence in their community.

Since late May, WBTV has reported at least two shootings and two deaths in the Highland community of Gastonia – an area where some of the trainers grew up.

Last year, they say, there was a lot of chaos with youth and fireworks.

They wanted to help make sure that doesn’t happen again this year, but they also wanted to see what’s going on with the youth outside of school hours.

While watching the fireworks on July 4th, the carriages drove along with the Gastonia police.

“Everyone in our community knows that trust in the police is at a low level and in order for me to be able to tell my kids to trust the police, I have to trust the police 100 per cent,” said football coach Darius James of Ashbrook High, said.

James grew up in the Highlands and, along with Hunter Huss trainer Randy Thompson, knows the history of youth violence.

“They don’t have anything else to look forward to – something to get excited about – and that’s one of the reasons I, Coach Brewer, Coach James, other coaches in the area, community leaders – that’s why we are come together — a lot of the pastors — trying to find things for these young people not to join gangs or lead to violence,” Thompson said.

To get there, they also wanted to better understand what the police are dealing with on their part.

“For me, it was just about bridging that gap, getting a better understanding of what they’re going through, while also letting them know what we hear as coaches,” said North Gaston coach Jabari Brewer.

Brewer and the other trainers wear many hats and play many roles.

Their involvement in young people’s lives outside of school is crucial.

“I mean, as a coach, it’s not just about teaching the kid to be good at football,” Brewer said. “It really teaches them life skills.”

That means being a role model off the pitch too.

“I think youths shot firecrackers at one of the officers’ cars, so I know, as myself, Coach James, I think Coach Brewer was on the other side of the neighborhood – when we stopped there was a big crowd, and Word slowly but surely started to spread that a bus of Huss and Ashbrook was in the police cars, and slowly but surely you’re seeing the youth unraveling,” Thompson said while considering the ride.

Their visibility, says Rick Goodale of the Gastonia Police Department, can help the community as a whole.

“They have this built-in trust factor. So when we can work with these individuals, these leaders in the community, it really benefits everyone,” Goodale said.

Going forward, Thompson wants to sit down with community leaders and youth and find solutions from there.

“A lot of young people will tell you that they don’t feel like anyone is listening,” Thompson said.

They want to offer young people new, meaningful opportunities.

“Being able to have police officers who look like those in this community could also be something to fill that gap,” James said.

Brewer also said he’s spoken to police about programs that help children who may be interested in getting into law enforcement and potentially inviting officers into schools.

The trainers have a number of ideas to continue this conversation and foster the relationship between the police and the community.

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