What do you get when Timber Joey, a Vancouver police officer and 12 kids walk onto a soccer field?
A good game of keep away.
The Portland Timbers mascot is often found wielding a chain saw but, on Thursday morning, he spent his time on the soccer field getting to know some of his smallest fans.
Except for standing a bit taller than most of the players, he fit right in. Timber Joey’s visit marks the end of a three-day soccer camp run by the Police Activities League of SW Washington, a nonprofit organization aimed at “(promoting) positive relationships between police officers and youth.”
As police officer and coach Brian Viles set up the field for practice, Timber Joey, whose real name is Joey Webber, could be overheard talking with kids about their favorite books and different instruments they play. Webber said early interaction between police officers and children is a positive thing.
“I think that if you have two different people that don’t know each other come together and have a positive, happy experience, it’s going to be positive and happy in the future as well,” he said.
Some of the kids in the group had played soccer before; others were new to the game, but they all said they were having a good time. They encouraged each other with a “You got this!” and shouted “Get it, get it!” throughout practice.
Yazid Elguea-Ocampo, 12, said the soccer camp taught him about learning to cooperate. A teammate chimed in, “Remember yesterday?” Yazid nodded and explained, “We were having a bit of trouble, but then we decided to work together and use hand signals.”
Despite the muggy weather, the kids, coach and support team were all smiling.
“This camp is really fun,” said Julian Charbonneau, another young player.
The Police Activities League works with schools in Clark County and offers programs in sports, academics, recreation and mentorship.
Viles said he is thankful that the organization makes it easy to participate. “We have crazy schedules,” he said.
He has been working with the Police Activities League for nearly as long as he’s been a police officer — 16 years. And over the years, he’s participated in many different ways. Viles started with literacy events and then moved on to other camps, such as golf and soccer. He said he keeps coming back because of the kids.
“It’s important to me to make that connection with kids,” he said. “I’m encouraged to see that the PAL program is getting bigger, and we’re reaching a lot more kids and giving them opportunities to come out and play.”
The price of the camps varies from $10 to more than $200, but according to Jenny Thompson, Police Activities League executive director, a high percentage of participants get scholarships. She said the nonprofit never wants money to be the reason a child can’t participate.
Information on how to donate or participate in the programs can be found at palofswwa.org.