A hall of fame baseball player became teammates with Hall County children at the state Capitol on Tuesday. And maybe half of them recognized Cal Ripken Jr.
But Joe Ethier, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, expects the children impacted by Ripken's support will do more than recognize the major leaguer in the months to come. They will gain character lessons that may change them for life.
"It was amazing. Mr. Ripken was definitely a gracious gentleman," Ethier said. "We have a tremendous amount of respect for what he and his foundation are trying to do for communities like ours."
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, named after Ripken's late father, a professional player and manager, announced Tuesday the organization picked the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County as one of five agencies in Georgia to harbor Badges for Baseball.
The program, created with help from the U.S. Department of Justice, brings police and children together through the game and corresponding character lessons.
A Walmart Foundation grant is funding the initiative, which is designed to serve at-risk youth.
"It is so important that our kids and families begin to see our local law enforcement as agents of positive change. This will help them have fun together and develop mutual respect for each other," Ethier said. "Often times the way law enforcement is portrayed is inaccurate to many of our youth. This program will go a long way to providing a positive relationship."
Gainesville Police Chief Brian Kelly and Capt. Chad White traveled to Atlanta for the event as their department is the participating law enforcement agency. Boys & Girls Clubs board president Michele Piucci and vice-chairman Greg Katulka also attended.
Staff from the Boys & Girls Clubs and Master Police Officers Joe Britte and Kevin Holbrook took part in a full day of training on Monday and joined the program's launch. Organizations from Savannah, Columbus, Metro-Atlanta and Whitfield County, where Dalton is located, were also named as partners.
Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation staff led the training workshop to show local representatives how to maximize the impact, those involved said.
"It is a way for us to teach life lessons to children," Holbrook said. "Officers with different divisions from the police department will be working with the kids."