Howell PAL is more than just a sports camp, gym

From boxing to
homework help, it

By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

Howell PAL is more than
just a sports camp, gym
From boxing to
homework help, it’s the
‘best kept secret’ in town
By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

HOWELL — There’s a place where youngsters can attend football, basketball or soccer camps. Where they can learn computers hands-on, and boxing — gloves on.

It’s on West Farms Road and it’s free.

Howell Police Sgt. Christopher Hill, who is the president of the Howell Police Athletic League, (PAL), calls the PAL facility on West Farms Road, "the best kept secret in Howell."

Open five days a week, Monday through Friday from 5-7:30 p.m., the building houses, along with a bank of computers, workout equipment that rivals any professional gymnasium.

In addition to the expensive memberships of professional health clubs, parents sometimes pay up to $120 a season for their child’s participation in sporting opportunities, Hill said, when they could play for free with the PAL.

Adults are welcome to use the gym for a $15 fee.

Along with sports and computer opportunities, the PAL also sponsors a homework club that pairs high school student tutors with middle school students who need help academically.

Hill said he sees the PAL as one of the first fronts available to law enforcement to establish positive relationships with the community’s youth.

"If we can get kids involved with police in a positive setting — not waiting until we have to show up as the ‘cops,’ we are all ahead of the game," the officer said.

The PAL functions, Hill said, thanks to local businesses and corporate sponsors that include Center State Mortgage, Stanberry Insurance, the Geese Police, Dr. Renay Friedman Chiropractic, Academy Pest Control and the Bedroom Gallery.

Hill said the PAL will be adding events such as "Hook a Kid on Golf," in which the youths who sign up will get free golf clubs and instructions. The organization is also getting ready to develop a lacrosse team, he said.

Hill and Patrolman Harold Foley laugh when discussing a community relations enterprise the officers have established with youngsters that encourages them to wear bicycle helmets. Ever since the bicycle helmet law was enacted that requires children age 14 and under to wear one, youngsters on bicycles would "turn quick and start pedaling away as fast as they can" when they see police approaching.

However, Hill said, with the financial support of local businesses, the police were able to develop a reward system in which police hand out coupons for free pizza, soda and ice cream to those youngsters who are "caught" wearing their helmet.

"Now when they see us coming, they come pedaling toward us instead of away," Hill said, laughing.

That story is just one of many examples of the positive interaction that is at the heart of community policing and is encouraged by Howell Police Chief Ronald T. Carter.

Hill said a successful PAL program depends not only on the hands-on participation of officers like him and Foley, but also on the support of every officer from the chief on down.

Hill, the father of two, started volunteering with the PAL in 1995, along with Foley, who has five children. Hill went on to become the local PAL president and sits on the national board of the PAL’s Region 6, which covers New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

As a board member, he travels to the member states and oversees the development of PAL programs in towns throughout the region.

Hill also helped develop Howell’s TIPS program, which stands for Teach Individuals Protective Strategies. It is Howell’s own version of the DARE (Drugs Abuse Resistance Education) program.

Hill, Foley and other officers are assisted by civilian volunteers such as John Rush, who coaches boxing at the West Farms Road facility. Rush notes that all the sports activities sponsored by the PAL are open to girls and boys.

Rush said 10 girls are learning to box at the Howell PAL. Hill proudly noted that two of the Howell PAL girls’ basketball teams took second place in two tournaments.

Rush is coaching a boxing team that features two young fighters from Howell who will compete in England in October.

One member of that PAL boxing contingent is Torey Toon, 23, who trained under Rush at the Howell PAL and went on to become the 2003 New Jersey state champion for his weight class.

Rush said the Howell PAL was also the starting point for another state boxing champ, Morgan Quinones, 23, who was the state Diamond Gloves champion for 2000.

Anyone wishing to make a donation in support of the PAL can mail a check or money order to Howell PAL, PO. Box 713, Howell 07731.

Hill said the PAL’s current membership includes youths from Howell, Jackson, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Lakewood, Manalapan, Marlboro and Neptune.

Those interested in joining the membership or in volunteering should telephone (732) 919-2805 and leave a message or contact the PAL facility directly by telephoning (732) 938-9219 between 5-7:30 p.m.

Foley said the most important function of the PAL is to keep youngsters busy with positive activities.

"They’re actively involved in activities that gets them positive encouragement from adult mentors," he said.

Noting that just because a young person can not "make the team," Hill said they should not be denied the opportunity to participate in sports.

"There’s a lot of competition in Howell for sports," Hill said. "Nobody helps the kids who didn’t make the traveling team."