MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office created a program to improve the lives of Twin Cities kids and young adults in 2019 with big goals of keeping kids off the streets and on a path to success.

But then everything abruptly ended when the pandemic hit.

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A few weeks ago, they relaunched the program — the Ramsey County Sheriff’s United Basketball League — with an even bigger mission to make a difference as crime is increasing in the Twin Cities.

On Thursday night, the 19- to 24-year-old teams played each other at the Sanneh Foundation gymnasium in St. Paul. The teams are all made up of young adults looking to better themselves and have some fun doing it.

“It’s been good so far, we’ve bonded more,” said DT Tucker, who is playing in the league for his first season. “I know there’s people still in the streets, but if there’s more stuff like this happening, [that would] get them off the streets and do more positive things.”

All the games happen after work and school, and are coached by Ramsey County deputies. The Sanneh Foundation provides the gym space and uniforms. The program is completely free to join, according to Chy Lee, an inspector for the sheriff’s office who also oversees the youth engagement programs.

“With the atmosphere right now, law enforcement owes it to build that bridge between law enforcement and the community,” Lee said.

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(credit: CBS)

He says simply providing basketball for youth and young adults, on a consistent basis, can keep them away from crime.

“With the age of youth being involved with crime as low as 12 years old, and these are felony-level crimes,” said Lee.

Brian King participates in this program. He says it allows him to play the sport he loves, but also helps him break down any barriers or perceptions about law enforcement.

“It’s a lot of tension, like we just all need to come together, like there’s no way around it,” said King. “Just knowing that all police are not bad is like a good thing for me.”

It’s clear that everyone participates for connection, not necessarily competition.

“Just being with everybody, feeling like a family,” said King.

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Despite the COVID setback, the basketball program is full with a couple hundred participants. Click here to register or learn more about the Ramsey County Sheriff’s United Basketball League and other youth engagement programs. And click here to learn more about the Sanneh Foundation.

Marielle Mohs