The occasional ricocheted BB didn’t hinder the mood on Saturday morning when the Hall County 4-H Club was joined by members of the Gainesville Police Department and Hall County Sheriff’s Office for the 10th annual Cops and Kids BB Gun Challenge.
The 4-H Shooting Awareness Fun and Education (S.A.F.E.) BB Rifle Team was joined by several alumni members of the original event to test their shooting skills against members of the law enforcement officers who volunteered time to compete.
Ten years ago, Sherman Pass of Gainesville decided he was tired of seeing tragic news stories that involved children and firearms. With the help of the city and county law enforcement officers, Pass created a program that would teach kids gun safety and the discipline needed to hit a target.
“People told us we might make it half of one year, so we proved them wrong,” Pass said. “All the cops really enjoy it. The kids enjoy it. There’s a lot of interacting between the kids and cops and we want them to know that they are people just like we are and they’re not the bad guys.”
Recent events across the country has changed the way some view law enforcement officers. That is one reason Pass believes the program has helped the community by bringing parents, children and officers together in a positive environment.
“I appreciate these law enforcement guys 100 percent, they have a tough job,” said Pass. “They come out here and give their time and enjoy it. I appreciate their work but I appreciate them doing this too.”
Having children get involved in part of the community is one reason Cpl. Kevin Holbrook of the Gainesville Police Department comes back year after year for the past decade.
“Although it was part of my duties at the time, I’ve formed those relationships and bonds and in the last 10 years,” said Holbrook. “Those that I’ve been able to work with, with this program, I’ve been invited to their graduations, to see them move on, and I’ve been able to mentor them somewhat, to assist them through some trying times in their lives. So it’s positive for everyone involved.”
Holbrook has seen the program grow every year. Though the kids continue to win every year, he likes to challenge them anyway.
“If the kids are involved in programs then it’s going to keep them from doing other things, keep them on the right path in life, make the right choices, and that‘s one of the biggest things,” Holbrook said. “Allowing us to form those bonds and relationships that yes, we are police officers but we’re people, too.
“We have a sense of humor, we can kid around, we can have fun. There’s more to us than just the badge and gun, and that’s probably the most important thing.”
Children as young as age 9 can participate, but the program is targeted at those in the fifth-grade to the eighth-grade. Beginning in September, the young shooters meet each week, spending as much time in the classroom as with a rifle.
“They teach us when we’re in the classroom, how to safely handle a gun, all the fundamentals of gun safety, shooting, to do this sport safely,” said Sawyer Williams, 13, of Gainesville, who has been in the program for four years and is excited about the move up to the high school program.
“The best part to me is just how close-knit of a community we are together with the cops and the kids, how everyone gets along and has fun,” Williams said. “We’re just relaxed, no one’s tensed up and it’s not too competitive. It’s just really fun.”
Williams said seeing alumni members of the first class of shooters was reminded him how 10 years ago they were taking part for the first time.
“It’s a positive event that shows that law enforcement is important and that they’re here for us,” said Lindsey Waters of Talmo, who was part of the first class led by Pass. “It’s a way for the kids to get to know each side. It’s a fun event.”