Joshlyn Williams doesn't look down as she reaches the top of the 15-foot pole. Shouts of support are coming from her teammates, but the slight 14-year-old is focused inward, eyes briefly closed, as mind and body align in a fierce effort to stand up without falling.
Her eyes open. Her knees straighten, then her back -- and she's upright. Just one hurdle left.
"Jump, Joshlyn. JUMP!" come the shouts from below.
A moment of hesitation -- and she does, harness and wire easing her to the ground amid applause and cheers from other city youngsters and the Maryland Police Corps cadets who are their mentors and coaches.
"She was the first one to make it all the way up," said Joel Hawk, 26, a University of South Carolina graduate and one of Joshlyn's mentors. He said he had climbed the pole the day before -- "I was terrified" -- and the memory increased his admiration for Joshlyn's achievement.
"It was scary," Joshlyn agreed.
Hawk and Joshlyn were among 27 new graduates of the Police Corps program and 23 city children who spent yesterday in Leakin Park climbing poles, trees, wires and walls in the rain as part of the first Action Learning Course included in the Police Corps' 17-week curriculum. The course, designed and run by Outward Bound, builds teamwork, trust and leadership by having participants work together to overcome physical obstacles.
The Maryland Police Corps is a federally funded program that repays college graduates' tuition costs in exchange for four years of service as a Baltimore officer. Children ages 12 to 17 were added to Action Learning at the suggestion of Sgt. John Cromwell, a nine-year veteran of the city Police Department who oversees the corps program.
"I thought, 'Let's get the kids involved with this, too,' " he said.
Cromwell grew up in West Baltimore and remembers from his childhood the importance of positive contact with authority, even the most fleeting kind.
"I can tell you -- a 'hi' or 'bye' from an officer, who knows where it will go?" Cromwell said. He went to the city Police Athletic League centers to recruit two dozen youngsters.
On Saturday, wearing body harnesses and safety helmets, the cadets scaled a 45-foot wood- en wall. They climbed trees to walk across a rope-and- wire obstacle 20 feet above the ground. They ascended a narrow, 15-foot pole, stood on a small disc and jumped to the ground.
Yesterday, the officers in training taught the PAL children what they had learned the day before, coaching and cajoling them to the top of the pole, the top of the wall and onto the wire High-Y.
At each obstacle, the support wires are held in place by group members on the ground, who must pay close attention.
"It's a trust thing," said Outward Bound program director Bob Hooey. "They have to depend on these people on the ground. The big thing with this is fear of heights. You have to step outside your boundaries and overcome your fears."
For many of yesterday's young participants, entering Leakin Park -- where casualties of city drug wars have turned up dead -- was their first obstacle.
"When we tell parents their kids are coming to Leakin Park, they say 'Eeek!' " said Hooey.
Outward Bound is one of the city's secrets, he said -- no one associates the nationally recognized program with Baltimore and Leakin Park, although the mid-Atlantic part of Outward Bound has been based at the park for 14 years.
Outward Bound is a not-for-profit program for children and adults. Funded by federal, state and private money, it uses full-time staff and volunteers to run programs aimed at education and opportunity, Hooey said.
Hooey and Cromwell hope that the lessons learned in Leakin Park will travel outside to the community. Pairing the cadets with the children provides a two-way exchange, Cromwell said, and that is what he most hopes will stay with the participants when they return to the city streets where the children live and the police patrol.
Pub Date: 2/08/99