MADISON (WKOW) -- A fundraising basketball game between police officers and Madison African American high school students also serves as a bridge between the two groups, in the wake of the officer-involved shooting of teen suspect Tony Robinson.
The inaugural "Play It Forward" basketball game Saturday at West High School to raise money to help minority high schoolers visit historically black colleges was nearly canceled, in deference to emotions over the Robinson incident.
"I thought about it long and hard," game organizer Pastor Alex Gee tells 27 News.
"When I thought about (students from) four high schools that are trying to visit campuses and how important for the community to see these kids succeed, I just felt it was the right thing to do," Gee says. "And I just hope the broader community understands."
The Madison Police team was coached by Chief Mike Koval. West High educational resource police officer Corey Saffold was one of the players.
The African-American Saffold tells 27 News the tragic, Robinson incident has actually opened more lines of communication between students and himself.
"My interaction with students actually got better," Saffold says. Saffold says teenagers have wanted information, and a police perspective.
"I know a lot of people who knew Tony very well," says West High basketball team captain Ari Davis, who's part of the student team against the "cops."
Davis acknowledges the tragedy, and the need to bring people together. "I really just wanted to do this event to show the community that we can get along with police officers," Davis tells 27 News.
Gee says a fundraising goal of $12,000 was within reach, with contributions from business sponsors and game ticket sales.
In an often exciting, and at times humorous four quarters of basketball, the students defeated the police officers, 75-64.
Davis concedes he at times has felt "profiled" as an African American youth, but says playing in this game, and basketball in general, are sound decisions for him. "Basketball is really an outlet for me. It's what I rely on to steer clear of all the negativity."
Saffold says he's experienced no racism within the police department, and believes the department's approach is sound, but concedes it's not perfect.
"I know there are problems. Problems that not only exist with the Madison Police department: there are other problems in the criminal justice system as a whole, that we have to take a step back, and look at," Saffold says.
Saffold says he loves his West High police assignment. Davis says he's glad Saffold is on campus. "He's a great guy," Davis says.
While the two tangled for loose balls and rebounds during the game, those who squared off in the high school gym and spoke with 27 News say they walked away with an experience to help bolster better relations..