Teens head to ‘semi boot camp’

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 9, 2001

Thirteen teenagers from Natchez were picked up by troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol Sunday.

But the young people had not done anything wrong, nor did they have anything to fear.

The teenagers are part of a group from across the state that will attend trooper camp this week at Tougaloo College. It is coordinated by the Central State Troopers Coalition.

&uot;Every year we try to do this just as something the troopers would like to give back to the community,&uot; said Lt. Lula Ward.

The students who attend the weeklong camp take part in what Ward described as &uot;semi boot camp&uot; with early hours, marching, close order drills and physical training.

But the teenagers, ages 13 to 17, also take part in recreational activities and also interact with people in law enforcement and hear about their jobs.

&uot;It’s strict discipline,&uot; Ward said. &uot;The kids are involved in all kinds of activities from the time they get up in the morning until it’s time for lights out at night.&uot;

The Central State Troopers Coalition has coordinated the camp for four years with troopers from several states and other agencies participating.

This is the second year Natchez teenagers have attended.

Natchez teenager LaGarian Bridgewater said this is his second year to attend the camp. In addition to having fun, he said the officers at the camp were not as mean as he had expected.

&uot;They’d have fun with us,&uot; he said.

The interaction with the officers is one of the pluses to this camp, said Earlene Singleton, of Adams County Department of Human Services who spread the word about the camp after hearing about it on television.

&uot;Kids don’t ever get that positive interaction with law enforcement,&uot; Singleton said. &uot;They don’t see law enforcement as a buddy.&uot;

Several of the teenagers said they heard about the camp through church and just wanted something different to do this summer.

&uot;It sounded fun and I think it will teach me a lot of things,&uot; said 13-year-old Kenny Robinson.

Ricard Banks, 14, said the trip made him more nervous than a recent mission trip he took to New Mexico.

&uot;I’m going with the troopers,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s something different.&uot;

Banks said he worried about what the troopers would be like and he also said it would be his first time to stay at a college.

&uot;I’ll be a college boy – for a week,&uot; he said.

The exposure to college is one of the other purposes of the camp, Ward said.

&uot;Even though we would love to have them all turn out to be troopers we just want to inspire them to do better in school,&uot; she said.

The troopers also want to encourage the teenagers to go to college and also teach them that they have friends in law enforcement.

&uot;We want them to know too that we’re police officers … and they can count on us,&uot; Ward said.

The teenagers will return to Natchez Friday.