NEWARK, N.J. (PIX11) – Listening to the crowd, you might think a state championship is on the line. But there’s something far more important happening.

It’s Troopers against the Grey Bees of St. Benedict’s Prep in the inaugural Building Bridges basketball game. It is part of the school’s program that builds trust between kids in urban communities and the police.

“Just another way, another opportunity to bring us together and connect and build those bridges through some pretty dark times,” said State Police Col. Patrick Callahan. 

It goes beyond basketball; the program includes all kinds of experiences, like pairing troopers with kids in teams to navigate challenges and accomplish common goals.

“There’s some fractures in our community between police and the public. We have to keep doing things like this, building programs like this,” said Lt. Col. Phil Buck.

“It’s paid dividends for us as the State Police,” said Maj. Brian Polite. “We get to learn more about these young people, where they come from, their experiences, how they feel about us, and I think we can learn just as much from them.”

Students spearheaded the building bridges program at St. Benedict’s.

“There’s a distrust between police and students here, right? So the bigger point of it all was to build that connection,” said Jayden Forniel, a student at St. Benedict’s. 

The Troopers edged the Grey Bees by 5, and along with a trophy, the Troopers scored a brotherhood with these kids.

“Although we lost, which is disappointing, that wasn’t the main goal here, right?” said Forniel. “The atmosphere, the students were loving it, singing the school chants, things like that, and we got to see the state troopers are people too, right? And that’s the big thing about it. So it was a big success.”

Another game is in the works: an all-female Trooper team versus the girls of St. Benedict’s in a volleyball game.