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Students and Police Find Common Ground on Gridiron

From a protest during a song about our flag during a football game to common ground while playing flag football. On Thursday students and police officers from Germantown and Montgomery Village gathered to celebrate their new understanding with a friendly game of flag football.

The game was intense and hard fought, and all in good fun. There was some good-natured police harassment, mostly by the uniformed officers razzing the officers that were playing for dropping a pass or getting burned on coverage. While the Germantown team struck first with a long pass play from Seneca Valley student Michael Kapneck to 5D officer Ryan Evans, it was the Watkins Mill/6D team that won 49-35.

The game officials were Watkins Mill Head Football Coach Michael Brown and Seneca Valley Head Coach Fred Kim.

It started with an honest and heartfelt protest by Watkins Mill High School football player earlier this fall, members of the team took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at games. But after an honest and frank meeting between the players and local police officers, a relationship was founded. And Officer Richard Reynolds, who works with the Montgomery County Police Department’s Community Engagement Division wanted to find a way grow, maintain and expand the relationship.

Reynolds got the idea for an inter-police district/high school flag football game in which students at Watkins Mill would team up with officers from 6th District Police officers serving Montgomery Village to play students from Seneca Valley High School and police officers from the 5th District in Germantown.

“The football team caught some flak from the community after their decision to protest during the anthem at football games,” said Reynolds. “The school and coaches had asked us to come in a talk to the players. We talked one night for about three hours. We listened to their concerns about the state of policing in the country and more locally, and then we talked to them about what we do, and why we do certain things and operate the way we do.”

6th District Commander Capt. Dinesh Patil saw the many different responses to the student’s protests. “The kids took the time and trouble, and risk to do this protest. They obviously were serious and have concerns,” said Patil. “So we set up a meeting, it was an intimate meeting where the students, community, and the officers were able to tell a lot of personal stories. It was great for the coaches, and the cops to have a mentoring conversation with these students – to be able to hear their concerns and what their perceptions and feelings were and make them understand impacts of taking a stand and appreciate the freedom that they have in this country to be able to do that.”

The meeting went better than either group thought it might.

“It was a great dynamic meeting. I really connected with them in a way that I have never connected with a group of kids before,” said Reynolds. “It was a good — really awesome experience. We had kids coming up to us and thanking us for taking the time, which is something that we don’t often see as police officers.”

Reynolds said he was inspired to continue the relationship. “I thought about how we can build off of that momentum, and expand it to include the work that we are doing with Identity and the Youth Council of Montgomery County.”

Identity is a program that assists Latino youth and their families who live in high-poverty areas of Montgomery County and who are most at-risk for poor academic and economic life outcomes. Identity works with students at Watkins Mill High School, as well as Wheaton High School and Gaithersburg High School.

“We came up with flag football,” said Renolds, “high school players and local police playing together and against police and students from other districts to really make a connection with the community.”

The game was proceeded by police demonstrations with K-9 units and the Emergency Response Unit, as well as free pizza and a DJ. “I was impressed, I didn’t think we’d have as many people here,” said Reynolds, who said that there would be similar flag football game between students from Paint Branch High School and police officers from District 1 against students from Wheaton High School and officers fr