Constable Dennis Chen was surprised to have won the MLSE (Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment)c Citizen MVP Award, for doing what he considers his “everyday job.”
The officer received the award for his work on a Youth Basketball League he started for children in priority neighbourhoods within 54 Division.
Chen was one of three officers to receive an MLSE Citizen Community Most Valuable Player Award in late December. The awards are given to people who have made an outstanding contribution in relation to hockey and basketball in their community.
“This isn’t something I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting to be rewarded for doing my job,” said the Community Response Unit officer, who started the league four years ago.
“I am part of the CRU and this is our job, to interact with the community and the league is a fun way to do that,” said Chen, who mentors and coaches around 70 young people, from 12 to 18, on Friday nights.
“It’s just a matter of giving kids something to do on a Friday night before the gangs begin recruiting them,” explained Chen, on why he started the league which takes teens and pre-teens from the Flemingdon Park, East York, O’Connor and Secord communities.
Over the years, he has seen kids who resented police officers in their neighbourhood warm to their presence.
“Now we can just sit down and talk… their perspective really changes over time,” said Chen.
Along with Chen, Constables Dave Besco and Timothy Broadhagen also received the MLSE Citizen MVP Award for their work on the ProAction Cops & Kids Hockey League that Broadhagen started in 2009.
The hockey league, like the basketball league, caters to children in priority neighbourhoods within 54 Division. Many of the children who join it are new to Canada.
“The biggest inroads we made through the league were with the parents. They started to trust police more. Before, they would be very shy and didn’t want to approach us. Halfway through the season, the rink was packed. It looked like something happening in small-town Saskatchewan,” said Broadhagen.
To this day, when Broadhagen is out in the community working he will get offers from parents to grab a coffee for him or they will simply stop to chat.
“It’s amazing to see the transformation and the trust that has been gained,” said Broadhagen. The best feeling for him, though, was seeing children, who had never seen ice before learning how to skate, picking up the game.
“From never having seen ice, to skating, to hockey, to the championship game, it’s amazing how quickly they learned the game in less than a year.”
Broadhagen no longer runs the league. He has handed it to fellow Constable Besco.
“It’s an honour to be given an award for doing something that we love doing,” said Besco.
The awards also came with Citizen watches, jerseys and tickets to Raptors and Leafs games.