Local officers join forces with AFES on the gridiron

All it took was an idea and a phone call to get three Fort Dodge police officers together on a football field.

Sergeant Ryan Gruenberg was contacted by Assistant Chief of Police Roger Porter about helping out with the Athletes For Education and Success gridiron program this fall. Gruenberg showed immediate interest in joining the coaching ranks.

“(Porter) called me at the beginning of the summer and was wondering if I would be interested in coaching football,” Gruenberg said. “He had done it the past two seasons, and with his kid moving up to seventh grade, he thought it would be a good idea to get some other officers to do it.

“I played football, but I’ve never coached before until this point. I thought it would be a great experience.”

Porter enjoyed his time in Charles Clayton’s AFES program, and wanted to see others from within the ranks continue the tradition.

“(AFES) is a great organization for kids,” Porter said. “I coached for the last two years, and had been talking about officers coaching.

“I made some calls to get it going, and I’m happy we had some volunteers step forward and show interest.”

Gruenberg joined School Resource Officer Cody Harrison and reserve officer Jon Morris, putting their gridiron knowledge together for an AFES fifth and sixth grade team nicknamed the “Warriors” this season.

At first it seemed a little overwhelming to Gruenberg and his assistants, but once they got the ball rolling, it was a perfect fit.

“I was a little stressed out at first,” Gruenberg said. “I was nervous about what exactly to do at practice, but once we got going, we were on our way.”

Once the trio hit the field, it wasn’t as much about police officers coaching football – it was about three men reaching out to help their community.

“Anything we can do to reach out to the community benefits everyone,” Gruenberg said. “You see a lot of bad things about officers. For the one percent that seems to attract a lot of the negative headlines, 99 percent want to do the right thing.”

Harrison, who also played football, enjoys mentoring the kids.

“It makes us more personable,” Harrison said. “They don’t see us in uniform; we’re not there to enforce the law. We’re there to help these young men.

“It’s refreshing to work with kids who have fun. It definitely puts you in a better mood.”

Gruenberg also sees it as a great way to unwind after a hard day on the job.

“It’s a great stress reliever,” Gruenberg said. “You learn their personalities, get to know them as individuals and see them have fun. We try to build on life principles.

“It’s nice to see the kids interact with each other, and grasp the concepts we try to instill with them.”

Morris, who played football at Eagle Grove High School and Iowa Central Community College, tries to build a repoire in the area with future football players and community leaders.

“Patience is the main thing you have to have,” Morris said. “We get to work with all different levels of kids and get to see them grow, which is great for us and for them.

“It’s good to have officers helping out in the community. Some people see police in a negative light. This helps, hopefully, to break down those stereotypes.”

On the surface, it’s three police officers getting involved with football. Once they hit the field, it’s about three leaders trying to build relationships with the kids – just like every other coach.

“We are police officers, but they (the players) don’t see us as that and we don’t try to convey that,” Gruenberg said. “We’re just trying to build up our youth and make sure they do the right thing, as teammates and as student-athletes.”