Cops Carry Badge Of Authority To High School Football Field As Coaches


I was the cops reporter, but that didn’t mean that I had to cover crime, all the time. 

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The sun beat down Tuesday on the 70 sweaty teenagers savoring victory after last weekend’s game against Waterford Mott High School. Eleven coaches directed drills, kept track of plays on clipboards and urged the teens to show up on time and tuck in their jerseys. It was a typical football practice at Southfield-Lathrup Senior High School, except that this year, three coaches spend most of their day wearing badges and carrying guns. “They are just more intimidating than the other coaches,” said Eddie Vanmeter, a senior on the varsity team. “I’m not going to give them any back talk.”

When they’re on duty, Detective David Clevenger and Sgt. Michael Shada of the Southfield Police Department and second-year coach Officer Tim Smith of the Detroit Police Department sometimes deal with teens who’ve been accused of vandalism, shoplifting and worse. Now, they relish spending their after-work hours with teens on the football field. The youths look to the coaches for football pointers but end up getting guidance on many situations they face. “It’s very relaxing,” Smith said, watching the players practice Tuesday. “I see a lot during the day, and a lot of these kids don’t know how blessed they are.” And players say they feel the coaches can bring their real-life experiences to their coaching jobs. “Football is so much like being police,” said junior varsity player sophomore David Anderson. “You have to have your ideas and know how to take down the

The police can talk about what happens when teens are led astray by giving examples — kids whom they see shoplifting, or the time when three teens vandalized a golf course. More police officers across the state are becoming more involved in their communities — especially with activities related to children — during off-duty hours, said Bill Nash, section manager at the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, a Lansing agency that issues police licenses. “Getting close to youth in the community is a noble and worthwhile objective,” Nash said. “You affect them when they are young, and may be able to steer them away from a life of crime.”

After she heard there were police coaches, parent Pat Giebel said she could tell Shada was one. “It was his confidence, and the way he spoke about wanting more parent visibility at the games,” Giebel said. All three officers are former high school or college players. Clevenger and Shada, both in their first year of coaching, said they have always wanted to coach. “Once they get to high school, some start hanging out with the wrong kids,” Clevenger said of teens. “But if you catch them early enough, you can make it all right.”

Southfield-Lathrup High School Athletic Director Bob Herm said this is the first time in 27 years that three officers have coached at one time. Smith came from coaching at Pershing High School in Detroit. Shada chose Lathrup because his late father, John Shada, coached there in the 1960s and ’70s. Clevenger ran into the head coach, Stephon Thompson, during an investigation last year. They talked about Clevenger being a coach and the conversation cinched it for him.

Before Lathrup’s home football game against Waterford Mott last Thursday, the players were taught to focus. “The joking is over. We’re going to land on the beach and go to war,” Smith told the players as they filed out of the locker room. “Put your helmet and your game face on.”

“Nobody beats us on our territory, you hear me? And I mean no one. We are warriors!” Shada yelled. “We cannot break down. No mistakes!”

The coaches said they see a correlation between their uniforms and those worn by the players. Police officers represent their communities, and players represent their schools, Clevenger said. The team won Thursday’s game, 40-20. The players also won their first game, against Southfield High School the week before, 12-6. They are happy with the victories, but the police-coaches say the tools they
used to win will stay with them much longer than a single game. “You have to adapt to the opponents of life as well as the football field,” Clevenger said.

This article was originally published in the Detroit Free Press.

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