Junior police cadets test their mettle

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Tremel Jones emerges from the long, dark tunnel after scrambling his way through at an impressive rate of speed. Patrol Officer Joshua Gilbert stands at the exit.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Hayden Hadinger drags Tremel Jones in a mock rescue. Detective Shawn Paxton waits for the boys to make it to the finish point.

Melonie McLaurin | Daily Journal Tremel Jones and Detective Shawn Paxton count as Hayden Hadinger completes a set of sit-ups.

ROCKINGHAM — A busload of students taking part in the annual Rockingham Police Department’s Junior Police Academy completed the week in a remote and usually locked location reserved for police physical conditioning — the obstacle course.

Detective Shawn Paxton, Lt. Richard Greene and Patrol Officer Joshua Gilbert demonstrated a complete run of the course before inviting students to give it a try.

Hayden Hadinger and Tremel Jones, both 11, were quick to volunteer. Their quest was to conquer a series of trials demonstrating agility, speed and dexterity interspersed with periods of running, push-ups and sit-ups.

Jones and Hadinger sat in the front seats of an unmarked patrol car, buckled in and waiting for Greene to give the cue before unbuckling themselves, exiting and closing the car doors, and dashing toward a “set” built to resemble a door.

“Shove it as hard as you can,” Greene said. “Give it a good shove!”

The prop was anything but flimsy, and the task was difficult for the boys to accomplish.

In another trial, each of the kids had to run up and down concrete stairs a number of times in a row, a challenge made more difficult by the rapidly soaring temperature and lack of shade on the field.

“Take your time,” Paxton said. “You don’t have to go full-speed the whole time. Pace yourself.”

The students were enthusiastic and wanted to make an impression despite the mid-morning heat and the glaring sun. A FirstHealth EMS team was standing by ready to assist in the event any of the students became overheated or were injured.

Asked whether he’d be interested in a career in law enforcement, Hadinger nodded while catching his breath.

“I like it,” he said. “My mom signed me up for this online and it’s fun. I might.”

Next, Jones stood alongside the patrol car waiting to be “rescued” by Hadinger who dashed several yards, slipped his arms underneath Jones’ and dragged him to safety. Jones had to go completely limp for Hadinger to perform the feat.

And then, there was the tunnel — a long, black tube made of beveled plastic that was just large enough to accommodate a full-grown adult.

Jones, excited despite showing signs of exertion, dove toward the entrance with gusto. His goal was to make it out as quickly as possible. The tube moved a little as he scrambled his way through. He was lightning-fast and emerged from the other side in a matter of seconds.

“I’m here so I can learn about police equipment and what they do,” Jones said. “They represent our community, and I want to go into law enforcement.”

Green said every law enforcement officer has to complete the obstacle course in order to get the job.

“We all have to complete it at least once when we first start out as officers,” he said. “After that you can do it once every year and you get a fitness bonus. The SWAT team does it, too. We do it once every year as a fitness evaluation, and the bonus is an incentive for the officers to stay in shape.”

To learn more about the Junior Police Academy, visit http://bit.ly/1e8sqTz on the Web.

Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.