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'The avenue to connect kids, cops and the community' | Here's how a former pro athlete takes a swing at crime

Since stepping off the baseball diamond, Wayne Gomes has traded his glove for a goal to build relationships between youth and police in his hometown of Hampton.

HAMPTON, Va. — Between 1997 and 2002, Wayne Gomes pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants and Boston Red Sox.

"I love doing well to the top of my ability [with] the gift that God gave me, and that was to throw a baseball," Gomes said.

"That's a part of a chapter. When it's over, it's time for the next chapter," Gomes continued. "It's time to move on."

Now, Gomes has moved on to a new kind of pitch. It's an idea to reach the youth in his community.

"When I had... high school kids... They might be on the streets. They might be doing some gang stuff," Gomes said.

 "And I'm trying to talk them out of that, but those streets had more influence than I did."

"I want to be able to start with a younger age group and kind of mold something," Gomes said.

He made that happen last year when he launched a local chapter of a national nonprofit.

Through the Hampton Roads Police Athletic League (HRPAL), students in grades K-8 participate in after-school activities that encourage them to look beyond a badge and find a friend.

"Police Athletic League is the avenue to connect kids, cops and the community," Gomes said.

"Every day, we do boxing. Every day, we do tennis. Every day, we do e-sports," Gomes said. 

"But... we don't do anything until we do our academics."

"The cops I have in my program that are working with the kids, they're really approachable," Gomes said. "They like coming to work with them. And these kids like them."

"That's... 72 more... that view law enforcement as something good," Gomes said.

Gomes believes HRPAL could help steer children clear of violence and crime.

"The fact that they're with me and off the streets is a start," Gomes said. 

"Working in a program, enriching themselves, [and] learning how to do something productive."

Meanwhile, Gomes plans to keep bringing the same passion from the diamond into the heart of his community.

"I never think of it as work. I really don't," Gomes said. "I think it's my calling. I think it's my assignment. And I really, really, really enjoy it."

HRPAL currently holds an after-school program for students at Hunter B. Andrews PK-8 School in Hampton.

Children interact with police officers, HRPAL staff, teachers and volunteers like college students in the program.

Click here to visit HRPAL's website. You can also check out the nonprofit on Instagram.

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