Cops versus middle-schoolers hardly sounds like a fair fight when it comes to dodgeball, but for the sixth- through eighth-graders at Harding Middle School, Friday’s dodgeball tournament is something they look forward to every year.
The annual “Kids vs. Cops Dodgeball Tournament” raises money to support the Cedar Rapids Police Department’s K-9 unit, which is funded mostly through donations. The money raised through the event helps to purchase dogs and outfit the animals, the cruiser and the officers with the gear they need to do their jobs safely.
“The kids really look forward to this every year,” said Student Leadership Adviser Rick Cushman. “Almost the entire student body gets involved, whether it’s playing in the tournament or coming to cheer on their classmates. They really get into it.”
Now in its 13th year, Cushman said the tournament came to be when CRPD Officer Tim Davis, who was a K-9 handler at the time, approached the school in 2007 to do a fundraiser for the department’s K-9 unit. That first year, the school hosted an event called “Dollars for Dogs,” Cushman said, but it wasn’t very successful.
“We had a brainstorming session after that with student leadership members and the advisers … to see how we could make this a more successful event and decided to give the dodgeball idea a try,” he said. “And we have been successful with this event ever since.”
Then in 2009, Officer Davis was seriously injured when he was assaulted by a robbery suspect. That year, the students decided to dedicate the dodgeball tournament to Davis and give the proceeds to the officer’s family.
Davis suffered severe brain swelling and a fractured skull on March 29, 2009, when then 17-year-old Jose Rockiett struck him with a handgun, causing him to fall backward and hit his head on the street. The officer had been in the area searching for three teenage boys involved in a robbery. After more than two years’ recovery time, Davis returned to duty and remains on the force today. Rockiett was sentenced in 2010 to 25 years in prison for the assault and other offenses.
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Over the years, Cushman said the tournament has evolved into a friendly but highly competitive battle between the officers and the kids, all vying to win the Jenks Cup, which was added as a prize in 2015, after CRPD K-9 Jenks died suddenly.
K-9 Unit Sgt. Chris Bieber, who was Jenks’ handler, said he has been involved with the event for about 10 years. It’s his job to help organize officer participation.
“The officers look forward to this every year too,” Bieber said. “We get a lot of officer participation and many of the officers come back year after year.”
On average, the tournament raises about $2,000 each year, Bieber said, and in the past 12 years, the police department said the event has raised more than $22,000.
This year, the event raised roughly $1,950, said public safety spokesperson Greg Buelow.
But for the officers, the tournament isn’t about the money, Bieber said.
“It’s the interactions with the kids that keeps us coming back,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of opportunities to interact with kids in a positive setting — it’s usually us responding to something bad that’s happened. This is a great opportunity to have fun with the kids and show them that officers are regular people just like them.”
The event definitely has had a positive impact on the students, Cushman said.
“Over the years, there have been some kids who were uncomfortable around the police, but this event gave them a different viewpoint,” he said. “I’ve seen those same kids after the event go up to the officers to say hi and shake their hands.”
For seventh-grader Sydney Cira-Debban, 13, playing dodgeball with the officers is fun, but the event has a much more personal meaning for her.
“My mom used to be a cop,” she said. “So if I can do something to help the police department, then I’m going to do it.”
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Though the game is fun in nature, Cira-Debban and her friends, Liza Scherbring, 13, Aliya Ballard, 13, Ali Rinkenberger, 13, and Tayva Fortune, 12, all seventh-graders, said it can also be really intimidating to walk on to the court and face the officers.
“You can’t turn your back on them for a minute or they’ll get you (with the ball),” Ballard said. “And they don’t back down.”
Despite that, the girls said they enjoy participating in the event.
“It’s for a great cause,” Rinkenberger said. “The officers are out there every day, keeping us safe and making sure there is nothing for us to be afraid of. So if we can help them, we should.”
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