The story of 15-year-old Vincent Gonzales and Skokie police Officer Mario Valenti started back in August at an X-Sport gym in the north suburb.
“I just want to play basketball, he don’t want to see me on the streets,” Gonzales said told NBC 5 Tuesday. “I’ve been sneaking in there a lot for a long time.”
Operations manager Justin Pritchett and his staff kept noticing that Gonzales--a highly ranked high school basketball player--had been sneaking into the gym to play basketball.
“We actually caught him a few times until it escalated to this point now,” Pritchett said. “I said 'Hey, buddy, you can’t be in here without a valid membership it’s for insurance purposes.'”
But Gonzales, whose family could not afford the membership, would not heed the warning, so Pritchett called the police. That’s when Valenti arrived.
“I just asked him questions regarding why he was coming there,” the officer recalled.
After Valenti approached the young man, he didn’t just simply throw him out, he actually came up with an idea that kept Gonzales playing basketball.
“In my head I am thinking, he’s going to do what every officer does, 'Hey, kid, stop sneaking in here next time I am going to take you to jail,'” Pratchett said.
But Valenti turned to Pratchett and asked "what can we do to get this kid a membership?”
“I told them I’d rather see him on the basketball court than out on the streets,” Valenti told NBC 5.
He offered to pay $150 for a few months membership, but because of the kind gesture X-Sport offered Gonzales a 2-year membership--a $700 plus value--at no cost.
“I think that was really nice," Gonzales said. "I said thank you because it meant a lot.”
Asked why Valenti didn't just tell Gonzales to leave the property and move on--his answer was candid.
“Most cops I know don’t look for that angle, they look for an angle to help people out,” he said.