In the first game of its kind, Morse High School’s men’s basketball team faced off against officers from the San Diego Police Department’s southeastern division in the high school’s gym Saturday afternoon.
The game was the result of efforts from both teams to build a better relationship, and even though they told NBC 7 they know things won’t get better overnight, they said they’re looking forward to seeing where the effort leads.
“This is a good opportunity to bring people together in a non-enforcement setting so that we can meet the student-athletes here and then they get a chance to meet the law enforcement officers as well,” said San Diego Police Department Southeastern Division Captain, Manny Del Toro. “We can make some friends and get to see each other in the kind of setting we don't normally get to do.”
With the SDPD’s southeastern division just blocks from Morse High School, Captain Del Toro said the outreach is critical.
“Sometimes we get a chance to interact during the course of our duties…but we never interact in a positive type of environment,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show that there's a lot more in common than differences that we have.”
Morse High School alumnus and head basketball coach Carl Fisher agreed.
“This is a great thing for the community, for the kids and also for the officers to get to know some of the kids and the kids getting to know some of the officers,” he said.
Coach Fisher told NBC 7 the friendly matchup represents so much more than just basketball.
“A lot of these kids have a lot more issues at home and this is a great place to come in and try to you know get their mind off of some of those things,” he said.
Jonathan Black, a member of the high school’s basketball team, said national uprisings after the police killing of George Floyd have deeply affected his generation, adding that he thinks it's important law enforcement understands what the communities they patrol go through every day.
“I think this is a start,” he said. “But I think there's still a lot of ground to cover.”
Both law enforcement and students said the games are a good start to establishing a positive relationship at a time when they said it’s more important than ever that both sides communicate with each other.
“These kids have stressors. They're trying to go to college, make grades, win sports,” Capt. Del Toro said. “And officers are showing up to work, we have the pandemic to deal with, we had civil unrest last year, but we're all trying to make it better.”
Despite a loss by the students Saturday, both teams said they want the matches to continue and extend to other groups in the high school.
“I want girls to play out here and men and I want to see them on the flag football field too,” said Black.
The SDPD said it is working with the high school to plan more games in other sports between law enforcement and students.
“The most important thing with these kids is to win in life,” said Coach Fisher. “Life is more important to me than a basketball game…I want them to be good parents, good fathers, good uncles. It’s just more than basketball to me.”