Trio of town cops also serve by coaching
Published 4:20 pm, Thursday, October 13, 2011
Every Westport police officer serves the community. But three have taken community service beyond their patrol sectors to the town's athletic fields, where they coach local high school and youth teams.
Officer Ned Batlin is the busiest of the three. He is the head junior varsity coach of the Staples boys' lacrosse team in the spring and head coach of the Fairfield Wildcats sixth grade football team in the fall.
None has a child of their own on their teams, and payment is a modest stipend. They coach for the love of it.
"It's important to give back," said DelVecchio, 22, who was sworn in as an officer last fall.
"Letting (youths) see us out of uniform is valuable because they see police as people in the community, too, who are friendly and approachable," she said.
Department officials say coaching benefits both the officers and the youths, and the department has made accomodations in officers' shifts so they can coach.
Deputy Chief Foti Koskinas said the officers' coaching "gives the police the opportunity to interact with the youth on a completely different level than a police matter, and in doing so, the children they coach or interact with are more apt to approach and engage an officer, whether it be for a question or assistance, or a matter they wouldn't be comfortable approaching an officer about."
Too often, officers are viewed as disciplinarians or enforcers, Koskinas said, but DelVecchio, Bergamo and Batlin are helping to break that stereotype.
"I think it's about making that positive connection with kids," said Batlin, who has been a Staples lacrosse coach for three years. "It's not really about winning or losing."
Batlin, 44, said coaching pays a dividend on patrol because the relationships he develops may come in handy on a call.
If, for example, he responds to a noise complaint and the offender is one of his current or former players, getting the volume turned down will not be an issue, he said. Dealing with strangers however, often can be contentious.
A former Staples athlete, he sees a bit of himself in the students. The 10-year police veteran was on the varsity football, wrestling and lacrosse teams.
He also connects with youth as Westport's Drug Abuse Resistance Education program officer.
"Having a relationship in the classroom, on the fields and also on the streets is the key to my success," said Batlin.
"Children who feel like they are part of the community are less likely to make bad choices. Knowing a police officer helps reinforce that sense of community."
Bergamo, 28, agrees. A PAL football coach since 2007, he said it has always been important to him to make sure children have a positive experience with police.
"I feel the best way to achieve that is to make sure they are able to frequently interact with us in a positive and fun environment," he said.
Orphaned as a child, Bergamo speaks at local fundraisers on homelessness and stands as proof you youngsters that goals can be achieved against the odds.
"I plan on continuing to serve the community as best I can for the remainder of my career, as I believe it is a fundamental and perhaps the most important aspect of being a police officer," Bergamo said.
Baitlin's passion for coaching dates back to his days as a high school football player.
Unable to play due to knee injuries, he helped coach the freshman team for the rest of the season.
"I wanted to stay involved," Batin said.
A couple of years ago, Batlin once again lended a hand in mid-season when the eighth grade PAL lacrosse team had problems with its coaching staff.
"I had some former Staples High School players and my junior varisty kids help out, and we had a blast," said Batlin.
"The team had been struggling all year, but we ended the year by beating Greenwich in the CONNY (Connecticut New York Youth Lacrosse Association) Final Four."
Batlin said he had no problem shifting from high school althletes to younger ones.
"I've coached young kids before. I treat them like young adults, and they thrive in that atmosphere," he said.
Of the three officers, DelVecchio is the closest in age to her players, having graduated from Fairfield Warde High School four years ago.
She was named to all-conference teams in both lacrosse and field hockey, and her senior year was named all-state in field hockey.
At Eastern Connecticut State University she was captain of the field hockey team, an all-conference midfielder and earned national honors as a student athlete.
At Staples, her freshmen players give DelVecchio positive reviews.
"She really inspires us, Jenna McNichols said before a recent game against Warde. "She can relate to us and we can relate to her, and we can ask her for advice on anything."
Maggie Fair said DelVecchio makes her "want to come to practice."
DelVecchio said the department has been supportive of her coaching.
She used to work the evening shift, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., but that necessitated racing to get ready for work when practice ended at 5:30 p.m. She's since been moved to an overnight shift -- 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. -- which gives her more of a buffer between coaching and work.
Chief Dale Call said it is imortant for officers to be involved in their communities.
"Coaching youth sports teams is a positive experience for both the officer and the kids. They see each other as people rather than merely stereotypes," he said.
"The department encourages our officers to become part of the community, whether it is coaching a sports team or becoming involved in school activities here in town or where they reside."