Skokie cop buys membership for teen who snuck into gym

( - A Skokie teen reportedly has a new outlook on law enforcement after learning that a police officer paid for his membership at a fitness center following repeated attempts to sneak on to the basketball courts.

Staff members at X-Sport Fitness located in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, called the police in late-August after issuing the teen -- thought to be around 15 years old -- with multiple warnings, reported the Chicago Tribune.

"He had had a membership, but his mother could not afford to pay for it anymore and it expired," Justin Pritchett, the X-Sport Operations manager, told The Tribune. "All he wanted to do was play basketball."

Mario Valenti, a police officer in the city, responded to the call and, instead of arresting the teen, he offered to pay $150 of his own money for a membership.

After learning about the officer's kind gesture, the company reciprocated, saying that the $150 would go toward a two-year membership worth $718, and X-Sports Fitness would foot the rest of the bill, according to Pritchett.

"We all were flabbergasted here," Pritchett said. "I know X-Sport takes care of our members so after we ran a background check and found out he had had no other trouble, we went ahead."

It was later discovered that the teenager, who would try and hide in the bathroom stalls just to evade the staff for a chance to play basketball, is an accomplished player who has gained national attention and is considered an NBA hopeful.

The act of kindness helped flip the teen's negative attitude regarding law enforcement, said Valenti.

"It seems like all that's represented (in the news) with police is the bad stuff, and it's a shame, because when I took this job 23 years ago, I didn't think everyone was going to hate you, which is sometimes the feeling you get as a police officer," Valenti told the Tribune.

Valenti, who has served on the force for more than two decades, said he would rather have the teen shooting hoops than "being on the street and possibly getting into trouble."

Skokie Police Department spokesperson Eric Swaback told the Tribune it's important to share all the good stories involving police officers, as "People don't always know about them."

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