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Elementary school kids playing basketball in a PAL tournament at the Palestra. Credit: Adrian Franco

Tuesday night, the stars at the Palestra were not Zack Rosen and the Penn men’s basketball team but Jordan Burney and his teammates from the Southwest Police Athletic League Center.

Burney and his team won the age 12-and-under category at the PAL Citywide Basketball Tournament held at the Palestra Monday and Tuesday.

For 10 years, Penn’s historic athletic grounds have been host to the final matches of the tournament. But Penn has contributed in other ways to the league, whose mission is “Cops Helping Kids.”

The tournament is just one of the larger events PAL plans every year for the 26,000 children it serves. The league operates 27 centers — staffed by 33 full-time police officers — and carries out various athletic and educational activities for children aged six to 18. It also offers its own scholarship program, in which eligible high school seniors are given $1,000 for each year of college.

Under the leadership of Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush, the University helped start the Tucker PAL Center — at 46th Street and Woodland Avenue — in 1997 by endowing the league with the center’s start-up costs.

Philadelphia Police Officer Steve Brennan, who has run PAL for the past 17 years, said Penn’s contribution to the league is “invaluable.”

Aside from DPS, Penn’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs regularly organizes volunteers for PAL’s “Homework Club” and hosted a barbecue for the Tucker Center last year. In addition to volunteering the Palestra for the basketball tournament, the Athletic Department helps fundraise for PAL and set up other athletic activities for PAL participants.

Rush said PAL is instrumental in helping children learn skills like interacting with both adults and children as well as providing tools like tutoring services to help them achieve academic success.

“[Jordan] has gained confidence — and he plays a whole lot better now,” Burney’s uncle Perry Burney said.

Notable PAL alumni include current Penn men’s basketball coach Jerome Allen and Penn Police Chief Mark Dorsey.

Dorsey cited PAL as a “major influence” in his decision to become a police officer, adding that it offered him “the chance to meet some fantastic mentors and kids.”

“We are seeding the next generation of leaders,” Rush said. “We want to make sure children do not get sucked into the underworld of crime — that they can stay on the top rung of the ladder and keep going higher.”

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