It could have ended differently for 15-year-old Vincent Gonzales. When police in Skokie, Ill. were called to the XSport Fitness in September, the teen could have been arrested for trespassing — but instead, the officer helped set him up with a two-year membership.
Skokie police officer Mario Valenti was called to the XSport after staff reported a teen had sneaked onto the basketball court without paying, the department wrote on Facebook. The staff had been lenient in the past, but this time they decided they wanted police to “referee” and issue a criminal trespass warning, the department wrote.
“Officer Valenti spoke to the 15-year-old boy, rumored to be amongst top Illinois high school basketball prospects, and learned that he needed a place to practice his favorite activity,” the department wrote on Facebook. “He hoped to avoid blowing the whistle with a criminal complaint.”
The officer learned that the teen had previously had a membership, but it had expired, the Chicago Tribune reported. He’d been sneaking back into the gym for weeks, and manager Justin Pritchett told the paper that they’d had “no choice” but to contact the police.
“We actually caught him a few times until it escalated to this point now,” Pritchett told NBC 5. “I said, hey buddy, you can’t be in here without a valid membership, it’s for insurance purposes.”
Officer Valenti pulled out $150 and asked how much membership time that would buy, the Chicago Tribune reported. The staff told him it would get him three or four months, but then gave the XSport corporate office a call.
When the team from corporate heard the story, they said they’d take the $150 and give the teen a full two-year membership in exchange, WLS-TV reported.
“We all were flabbergasted here,” Pritchett told the Chicago Tribune. “I know XSport takes care of our members so after we ran a background check and found out he had had no other trouble, we went ahead.”
Now Gonzalez doesn’t have to do any more sneaking and can use the gym to practice his sport and hang out with his friends for as long as he wants.
“I just want to play basketball he don’t want to see me on the streets,” Gonzales told NBC 5. “I said thank you because it meant a lot.”
As for Valenti, he told the Chicago Tribune that it’s all just part of the job. “Most of us took this job to help people, not to hurt them,” he said.