City officials have created a new summer basketball program that aims to strengthen ties between teens living near Melrose Park and Roanoke police officers.

The Lea’s Youth Outdoor Basketball League, named for Councilman Sherman Lea, will be open to children between 11 and 18 years old. The camp — which starts June 2 — will last for five weeks and consist of two refereed basketball games a week.

Lea said the league plans to have police officers involved as referees, coaches and organizers. He said such programs are important in light of civil protests held after officer-involved fatal shootings in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

“I don’t have to tell you about Baltimore, I don’t have to tell you about Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities, where we’ve seen things that have taken place between law enforcement and young juveniles,” Lea said. “We’re going to get ahead of that in Roanoke. We’re hoping to develop positive relationships.

Each hourlong session will also include what Lea calls a “quality moment” — a 15-minute space for community leaders, college basketball coaches and others to tell participants about the importance of having self-esteem and making good life choices.

“There’s a reason we chose Melrose Park. This has been a tough area for crime and we had our drug initiative start in this area,” Lea said. “So we wanted to go to the heart of the inner city, the urban city as we strengthen the relationship between our police department and our young people.”

Representatives from the Roanoke Police Department’s Athletic Association and the Inner City Athletic League helped Lea create the program after community member James Lynch suggested that basketball-related events could help community members get to know officers outside of law enforcement.

Lynch, who will work as the program’s director of basketball operations and scheduling, said he approached Roanoke Police Chief Chris Perkins at a city council meeting about potential programs for the northwest area.

“This park is the area I grew up in, and I learned to play basketball in this park,” Lynch said. “I think it’s a great thing to have this in our neighborhood.”

Lea said program organizers hope for 75 participants, but no interested participants will be turned away. Participants interested in the program can sign up in Melrose Park on May 30. Registration costs $10, and covers uniforms, certified referees, water and other supplies.

The league has also received funding from the secular drug and alcohol abstinence program Life Ring Foundation. Interested community sponsors can send donations to the Lea Youth Outdoor Basketball League, 1638 Lonna Drive, Roanoke, VA 24019.

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