Mayor Jim Kenney and other government officials hosted the 49th annual PAL (Police Athletic League) Day at City Hall on Wednesday, an event that brings PAL students together with government and city officials to shadow them for a day
But one major difference this year is that it is the last for the man behind much of PAL’s programming: Philadelphia Police Department officer Ernie Rehr Jr., who was honored for his 34 years of service and his 28 years of working with students as a PAL supervising officer on Wednesday.
After decades of work, Rehr has fond memories of working with PAL students.
“PAL Day at City Hall brings to mind a lot of memories, including back in ’92 when Mayor [Ed] Rendell was here and a PAL girl was mayor for the day. Mayor Rendell got a phone call and said, ‘I can’t talk to you. I have to get the acting mayor.’ He handed the phone to the young lady and it was the governor,” Rehr recalled. “If you multiply that by so many years and so many kids, it’s just an unbelievable experience for the boys and girls of PAL.”
Poignant memories from Rehr concisely sum up the importance of PAL Day.
“When I first came to PAL in ’91 I was told I had to be a national PAL basketball coach for the 14-and-under national team, which meant it was up to me to put together teams from all of the different PAL centers to go all over the country to play for the national championships,” Rehr said. “I was able to do that along with fellow officer Dennis Jones and we won in 1992, 1993 and 1994.  was in Philadelphia, 1993 was in Delaware and 1994 was in Florida, so we got to take 10 PAL kids down to Florida for a week to play basketball and win a national championship. Many of those kids went on to play in college and a few played in the pros.”
Mayor Kenney, himself a former PAL student during his time growing up in South Philly, is a major proponent for PAL’s work in helping build community bonds. “When I was a kid growing up, my parents always told me that if you have a difficulty out in the street or felt lost or unsafe, find a police officer,” Kenny said. “A police officer will get you to where you need to be. Over the years that isn’t always the case with every family in our city. What PAL does is bring those gaps and connects police to our kids and our communities.”
PAL operates 19 community centers throughout Philadelphia and focuses on bridging the gap between law enforcement and local youth with sports leagues, after school programming and mentorship.
As part of the day’s activities, students participated in speed networking with different government and city officials, broke for a lunch and then joined the official that they were individually paired with to learn from for a day.
Joe Enslin, 17, has been involved with the Rizzo PAL center for 10 years and is fond of the connections it builds in the community. “It brings everyone together and everyone knows everybody,” Enslin said. “I want to go in a carpenter’s union, stay around to make sure things are good around here and be around family.”
Enslin was paired with councilman Allan Domb, another local official who heavily advocates for PAL in the community. “PAL is great because it’s a great connector of the police and our young kids in a very positive way,” Domb said. “Today is a great day because kids get to see how government works. Our communications director for our office in Council was a PAL mayor many years ago, so you never know where it’s going to lead to.”
From high school students playing sports in their neighborhoods to adults working for the city they love, PAL Day helps show the leaders of tomorrow a direction for their futures.