In 1940, following a visit to Denver during which he observed the Denver Police Athletic League program, Indy Parks Director J.R. Townsend approached Chief of Police Michael F. Morrissey with an idea: build meaningful relationships between at-risk youth and police officers through athletics and activities. Thus, the Indianapolis Police Athletic League was born.
After consulting with the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, Boy Scouts, community center and many other groups, Chief Morrissey assigned Officer Forest Higgs to choose a site and initiate the first PAL Club project. Officer Higgs selected Rhodius Park, an area he determined would benefit from increased police presence and engagement. On June 13, 1940, he strolled down to the park’s baseball diamond in full uniform, carrying a softball and a bat. Officer Higgs said about his first day, “I called a little fellow over to play pass. Other boys, seeing a police officer playing pass, were awed and soon several boys came to play and we chose up sides. I pitched for both sides – in uniform – and that started the PAL Club.”
Indy PAL was soon manning nine centers with the assistance of the Fraternal Order of Police, who provided funds for athletic equipment. In most locations, children in the area had limited adult supervision and access to safe play spaces and activities. These clubs were placed in carefully chosen locations within the city and a patrolman was assigned to each on a full-time basis. The program consisted of such activities as baseball, football, softball, kites, tumbling, wrestling, ping-pong, chess, checkers and marble tournaments, which entertained many boys and served to keep them engaged in positive, safe activities.
No dues were required for membership and no recruiting for members was done other than maintaining an attractive program for the children of the surrounding neighborhood. The PAL Club officers found it very helpful to become acquainted with the parents of the children and urged them to support the Club’s activities and to take a vital interest in the community’s well-being. Each year the members of the individual clubs selected a youth from their own group as an “Outstanding Citizen,” basing their choice on trustworthiness, citizenship and sportsmanship. These boys were celebrated at a banquet given by the Fraternal Order of Police.
To further develop Indy PAL program, the clubs were taken from the supervision of the Juvenile Aid Division in 1952, and placed under the supervision of Lt. Casper ‘Cap’ Kleifgen. It was his responsibility to coordinate the PAL Club with the programs of the Park Department, the American Legion Junior Baseball League and other such organizations.
PAL Clubs continued to grow in various parks throughout Indianapolis until 1973 when they were moved from the parks to the subsidized housing locations. Since the parks already had well-organized activities for the children in their immediate area, Indy PAL went to these locations to involve the many juveniles who were not reached by the parks activities. The goal was to remain the same: to keep youth actively involved in well-supervised programs, off the streets and out of trouble.
Due to growing chapters of PAL clubs throughout the country, the National Associations of Police Athletic Leagues was formed in the 1950’s to provide national oversight and support for local chapters. Although the PAL program was originally designed for policemen and boys, policewomen had been active in PAL clubs from the 1950s, and in 1975 a policewoman, Judy Callahan, was assigned full-time to the PAL Club with the responsibility of organizing girls’ activities. These activities consisted of softball, camping, swimming, volleyball, arts & crafts, and track and field events.
Indy PAL continued to operate at various levels of support and engagement through the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s. During this time, the program model expanded to include “athletics and activities,” ensuring engagement opportunities for all Indy youth. In addition, in partnership with Indy Parks, IMPD and Indy PAL operated out of the JTV Hill Center, located just north of downtown Indianapolis at 1806 Columbia Avenue. Over it’s over 80 years of existence, Indy PAL has engaged and supported tens of thousands of Indy’s youth.
Ultimately, like many nonprofits during the time, Indy PAL struggled to meet program needs and growth. In 2019, at the request of IMPD, the Indy Public Safety Foundation assumed the PAL charter and administrative oversight of the program. Since January 2019, IPSF has invested over $250,000 in the program, including hiring the program’s first Director in over 20 years and invested in two (2) new outdoor basketball courts at JTV Hill Center.