COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Police Athletic League will return to some Columbus community recreation centers to foster relationships between children and the city’s police and fire departments on sports fields, city leaders announced.

“By serving as mentors, coaches, advocates and role models, our officers will connect with the community on a more personal level,” Mayor Andrew Ginther said. “Building the kind of trust, understanding and support that lasts a lifetime.

Columbus Police Assistant Chief LaShanna Potts said the program is an important way for the division to build connections with the city’s youth.

“What these children will learn is that police officers are just like them,” Potts said. “They are moms and dads, they are aunts and uncles, and they are cousins, and they have some of the same struggles that these kids will face.”

Douglas, Adams, Marion Franklin, Sullivant Gardens and Blackburn community centers are the first locations for Columbus PAL — with a youth basketball league kicking it off in December. Charnon Barnes, recreation administrative manager of youth sports for Columbus Recreation and Parks, said the city plans to expand the program to other sports, including soccer, gymnastics and baseball.

“Columbus PAL will offer a safe environment where our students can have fun while also developing life skills that go beyond sports,” Barnes said.

Children aged 6-18 are eligible to participate in the PAL program. The city seeks both volunteers and participants in the league.