Summer games to bring Pittsburgh police, community together

There will be water balloon tosses, dodgeball and tug of war, because “Athletics and sports is a universal language.”

jon dawson / flickr
MJ Slaby

The idea for a summer olympics event bringing together Pittsburghers and police goes back about a year.

Aerion Abney, one of the organizers, said it came up around the same time as the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile in Minneapolis, Minn. and the shooting of Dallas police officers that left five dead and nine others injured.

There were a lot of people who “wanted to make sure something like that didn’t pop off here in Pittsburgh,” he said, adding that “sparked a whole lot of meetings.” Abney said the meetings were filled with “open and honest dialogue” from both police and the community. But at the end, he was usually left wondering: what can we do next?

So that’s when he and other from Bridges mentoring group — an informal network of young professionals in the city — started planning the summer olympics, as a throwback to summer camp and team building activities.

The USSIE Summer Games Community & Police Field Day (pronounced us-ie, like a group selfie) will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 24 at Highmark Stadium. Each police zone will have a team made of police officers and community members that compete against other zones.

Instead of a sit-down meeting, physical activity peaks people’s interest in a different way, Abney said. “Athletics and sports is a universal language.”

For as complex as race relations are, this approach brings police and community members together as teammates and breaks down barriers, he said.

“I know this isn’t going to solve all the same the issues,” he said, but added it shows everyone in the community isn’t criminally-minded and shows that all police officers aren’t bad.

By including all the police zones, Pittsburghers can learn more about the zones they don’t live in too, especially the ones they only see on TV or on the news when something bad happens, Abney said.

Plus, summer camp games are just fun.

“We’re excited to participate in this meaningful event that creates a space for the police and the community to engage in a fun way that will build a strong foundation,” Pittsburgh Police Assistant Chief Larry Scirotto said in a news release.

The game plan

Each of the city’s six police zones will have a team of 12 members: three police officers, four adults, two teens ages 13 to 17, two preteens ages 8 to 12 and a “celebrity captain.”

The captains are:

  • Saleem Ghubril, executive director of The Pittsburgh Promise
  • Natalie Bencivenga, Post-Gazette SEEN editor
  • Gisele Fetterman, co-founder of 412 Food Rescue and For Good
  • Chris “Steel” Edmonds, former Cincinnati Bengals player
  • Lynne Hayes Freeland, KDKA-TV reporter
  • Rev. Marco Tinor, senior pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church

Each zone will compete against others in games like water balloon toss, dodgeball, three-legged race and tug of war. There will be vendors sharing information about various services, as well as face painting, a dunk tank, food and more, Abney said.

To stay true to its name and goal of bringing people together, he said attendees are encouraged to take group pictures with people they meet and post them to social media with the hashtag #ussiesummergames.

And yes, there is a trophy for the winner — a traveling trophy.

“We do want this to be an annual event,” Abney said, adding that he doesn’t “want people to have a good time and then forget.”

Go here to sign up for a team or to volunteer at the event.