Cadet Trenton Harding hesitated to take his first step out onto the high ropes.
“You’ve got this. I believe in you,” said a cadet behind him.
The 13-year-old of Eighty Four took his first step and found himself standing high above the ground. Secured with a harness, he tentatively made his way across the line. At times he appeared mentally frozen, but pressed on.
“You’ve got this, Harding! You’re crushing it!” a trooper shouted from the ground.
He made it across the first line as troopers and cadets cheered him on. But there was another line to cross, this one much more challenging. A sudden change came over him, and he knew he could do it. He moved easily along the line, comfortably leaning back against the harness to traverse the obstacle.
“I could do this all day!” he shouted back, a smile breaking across his face.
He crossed a log and sailed down a zip line, then bounced over to Camp Cadet director Trooper Robert Broadwater.
“This is where they build their self-esteem,” Broadwater said.
“I want to do that again,” Harding told him.
State police from Troop B served as camp counselors and trainers last week at Heritage Reservation in Farmington. Kids ages 12 to 14 were invited to the camp from Troop B’s coverage area, which includes Fayette, Greene, Washington, Allegheny and parts of Westmoreland County. This was the second year for Camp Cadet to be held in Fayette County, and their applicants multiplied to 71. Forty-two cadets graduated from the camp Saturday.
“It’s been really good, really solid this year. This wouldn’t have gone so smoothly if not for these people in the blue shirts,” Broadwater said, motioning to the group of troopers who dedicate time throughout the year for fundraisers and promoting the free camp.
“When I go to these schools to promote this, I offer them an opportunity of a lifetime to better themselves,” he said.
The cadets participate in both law enforcement activities and standard camp activities. They wake up for early morning runs, and participate in hands-on demonstrations with law enforcement.
Campers learn to investigate a crime scene, participate in a mock trial and learn swift water rescue skills. They see demonstrations from state police motorcycle, K-9 and aviation units, getting a close up look at the equipment.
The campers learn respect, walking to activities in straight lines, saying thank you for meals and addressing adults as sir or ma’am. But the structure only seems to strengthen the bond among campers and between the cadets and troopers.
“Malik, did you get a nickname this week?” Cpl. John Weaver shouted at a squad.
“Yes, sir!” Isabella Malik shouted back.
“Stand up and tell me what your nickname is.”
“Spidermonkey, sir!” she answered between giggles.
Malik, 13, of Washington said she earned her nickname when she crossed the ropes course in the time it took Weaver to cross the street. She said it was her favorite part of camp.
“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer, and I wanted to see what this would be like for me,” she said.
She has wanted to be a K-9 officer since a demonstration in her third-grade class in the McGuffey School District.
The week’s activities taught her she has the skills and perseverance to succeed. During the morning runs, she said she was concerned asthma would hold her back.
“I know I can push myself. I know I’m going to complete this, and I’m going to stay strong,” she said.
Logan Koon, 13, of Bentleyville said his favorite part of camp was “getting yelled at.”
“Not usually ma’am,” he said when asked if he likes being yelled at. “But this is different. I enjoy it.”
“It really makes you think about what you say and do,” he said.
He thanked the troopers because “they take time out of their lives to do this with us,” he said.
He plans to become a game warden in Montana.
Bowen Sauer, 15, of Greene County returned to camp for the second year to be a senior cadet.
“At first, it’s very surreal. It brings back a lot of good memories,” he said.
He said he enjoys watching the cadets “grow up” over the week and learn how to work with a team.
“They respect themselves more. They’re learning not to quit. They’re learning to respect people and respect property and teamwork,” he said.
It’s a challenge when he sees cadets struggling, he said.
“Sometimes it’s hard whenever they are down or can’t push themselves. You really want to see them push themselves,” he said.
He said he loves to see “the smiles on their faces, watching them grow and the unforgettable bond” among campers.
Broadwater said Heritage Reservation is a perfect location for camp, and thanked the Boy Scouts of America for their support during the week.
“The support we get from Boy Scouts of America is second to none. They don’t have to be here, but they stay here to help us,” he said.
He said the goal of the camp is for the cadets’ lives to be changed.
“We’re hoping by the end of the week to give them the opportunity of a lifetime, and I believe we’ve succeeded,” he said. “This is something they can remember years down the road – that feeling that they haven’t been given something. They’ve earned it.”
The addition of a seventh judge at the Washington County Courthouse will result in some changes inside the more than century-old building.
The county also bought the Caldwell Building across the street from the courthouse for $400,000, finalizing the sale on Tuesday, Aug. 6.
“It’s the quickest closing I’ve been through,” Scott Fergus, Washington County director of administration, said last week. “It’s a good county asset.”
The county commissioners first raised the possibility of purchasing the Caldwell Building last fall.
“We thought we had until the end of the year to get space for a new judge,” Fergus said.
Cecil Township District Judge Traci McDonald-Kemp was chosen by voters from both the Democratic and Republican parties in the primary election four months ago. In late June, she won state Senate approval as Gov. Tom Wolf’s nominee to fill the vacancy that has existed since the Legislature approved a seventh judgeship in 2018 as the fourth-class county approaches the larger third-class status.
McDonald-Kemp is scheduled to take the oath of office Aug. 30, and she will be presiding in a courtroom carved out of the law library that, until recent renovations, had been used by a rotation of senior judges.
Finding room for her chambers and staff, however, triggered other changes within the courthouse.
McDonald-Kemp’s office will not be adjacent to the basement Courtroom No. 7. It will be located on the second floor.
Court Administrator Patrick Grimm and his staff will be moving to what has been for decades the main district attorney’s office in the northwest corner of the building.
Plans call for District Attorney Gene Vittone and 15 employees to take up new quarters later this month across the street from the courthouse on the second floor of the Caldwell Building at 26 S. Main St.
“I have offices in four locations,” Vittone said. In addition to the main DA’s office, there are offices elsewhere for county detectives, victims’ services, two assistants, intake workers and an assistant for specialty courts.
He hoped for a seamless transition with no lapse in computer tracking of the status of prosecutions.
First Assistant District Attorney Dennis Paluso said the DA’s office is “under 1,000 active cases for the first time in 20 years” despite an increase in the county’s population.
The former Caldwell’s Department Store building, which has a rear loading dock, will also be used to store new voting machines the county expects to purchase and deploy before the 2020 presidential election.
County officials discussed a lease with George Sprowls, the Caldwell Building’s owner, but they decided it was more “economically feasible” to buy than to rent for a period of time, Fergus said.
The purchase price discussed last year was $370,000.
“We had negotiated an agreement that fell through,” Fergus said. “At that point, we wanted to look at other options. We were lucky to get a building across from the courthouse.”
Sprowls, in the meantime, had made improvements in the building he planned to lease, which accounted for the additional $30,000 above the purchase price proposed in the prior agreement.
No independent or third-party candidate filed for the seventh seat on the Washington County bench before the Aug. 1 deadline, so McDonald-Kemp’s name will be the only one on the Nov. 5 ballot for a full, 10-year term.