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David Rainer: Academy Sports honors female Conservation enforcement officers

As part of the SEC Softball Tournament last week at Auburn University, eight female Conservation Enforcement Officers (CEOs) from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources were honored during the tournament and with a shopping trip by Academy Sports + Outdoors at its Auburn location.

Cody Reid, Academy’s Regional Marketing Specialist for Alabama, east Tennessee and Georgia, said recognizing the CEOs was a natural fit for Academy.

“The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been a great partner over the years, and this was an opportunity to recognize the eight female officers who serve throughout the state with the recognition,” Reid said. “We’re also a partner in the Southeastern Conference, and Auburn is hosting the SEC Softball Tournament. Each officer received four tickets to one of the tournament games. Through our partnership with ADCNR’s Outdoor Alabama, we’ve been able to provide a really, really cool experience in recognizing these officers. This is an additional way we can amplify and show what these amazing women do.

“What the Department of Conservation does on the water and on the land – that’s our bread and butter at Academy Sports + Outdoors. Whether it’s fishing, hunting, visiting the State Parks, hiking, camping or whatever you can do outdoors, we have it in our stores. But we want you to enjoy the outdoors safely as well. June is Water Safety Month, and we will be making an additional donation to the Department of $1,000 to purchase life jackets so that game wardens can give these life jackets out as they see people in need. What we are all about is really being tied into the community, ensuring everybody is having fun out there but also safe.”

ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship was on hand as the officers from the Department’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF), Marine Resources (MRD) and State Lands divisions met at the Auburn store to receive their recognition and tickets to the SEC Softball Tournament.

“I appreciate Academy recognizing the ladies we have as Conservation Enforcement Officers in the Department of Conservation,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “It’s a fun job, but it’s a difficult job. You’re in the vehicle or the boat or in the woods by yourself most of the time. It can be a dangerous job, but these ladies do a fabulous job as the face of the Department with the hunters and anglers around the state. For most people, their impression of the Department of Conservation is solely their interactions with the Conservation Enforcement Officers out in the field. For most of the state, that’s the only part of the Department that they see.

“The positive face these ladies project and the great job they do in protecting the resources is fabulous for our state. I’m so glad Academy thought so much of them to provide this promotion. Hopefully they will take this back to their communities and continue to do such a great job for us.”

Commissioner Blankenship said he has a unique perspective on what our CEOs face on a day-to-day basis.

“I spent the first 15 years of my career doing this job,” he said. “I know how challenging it can be. I know how rewarding it can be. At the same time, I had a wife at home taking care of things at the house. Some of these ladies are working day and night, depending on the schedule, and trying to run a household as well. They have a lot more challenges to deal with than I had. I’m very thankful they chose this as a career.

“They all do a great job, and I’m hopeful we can use this as a recruiting tool to get more people to join our enforcement team. Law enforcement, right now, is in a challenging state. Less and less people around the country are choosing that as a career. We need quality people like these eight ladies to continue to do a great job protecting our resources.”

The female CEOs honored were Monique Ard (Mobile County), Logan Black (Fayette County), Jessica Spears (Mobile County), Deborah Dixon (Etowah County), Breanna Nabors (St. Clair County), Cydne Bolden (Jefferson County), Katie Burks (Bibb County), and Brae Buckner (Hale County).

When Academy approached ADCNR Marketing and Communications Director Billy Pope with the idea, Pope had to get the promotion approved.

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Academy Sports + Outdoors,” Pope said. “They’ve been a great partner and friend of the Department and supported a lot of efforts over the years. When they reached out to recognize our female Conservation Enforcement Officers, it was a no-brainer. We just had to get approval from the Alabama Ethics Commission and our attorneys. Once that happened, we were able to put this together for the honorees.”

With Academy’s sponsorship of the SEC Softball Tournament, the sporting goods retailer wanted to honor a group of female first responders or public service individuals during the softball games. The eight CEOs were recognized at one of the games during the six-day tournament.

“Our lady officers were excited to be presented with the opportunity and the chance to be honored on the field at the SEC tournament,” Pope said. “It’s a great testament for our officers being role models for the next generation of officers and conservationists. Their bravery, expertise, and passion for the outdoors is deeply inspiring.”

CEO Ard has served with ADCNR for 15 years, serving currently with MRD in Mobile County.

“I enjoy talking with the people on the water,” Ard said. “Most people are out there just having fun, learning what they can and can’t do. Most of the time, it’s just education. They are almost always surprised to see a female. They say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know they had female officers,’ especially the little girls. I tell them they can become officers too. The women are really happy to see you.

“I was really surprised by the recognition. It’s an amazing thing to do to recognize the females. I thought that was really cool.”

CEO Spears has been with WFF for two years and has known for a long time she wanted to become an officer.

“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a game warden because when I was a kid we had so many issues with people hunting without permission, breaking into our camp and cutting locks,” Spears said. “I wanted to help people not have to deal with that when I grew up.

“This (Academy) event is awesome and totally unexpected.”

CEO Buckner started her ADCNR career as a WFF biologist and then transferred to State Lands, where she was required to have law enforcement training. She has served with ADCNR for 5 years.

“State Lands officers are either foresters or wildlife biologists plus law enforcement,” Buckner said. “I think it’s so nice of Academy to show that they care about what we’re doing and appreciate us as well.”

CEO Dixon is the longest-serving female officer with more than 17 years with WFF. She cherishes her time outdoors in the woods and on the water.

“I have to say this is the best job in the state,” Dixon said. “The officers I work with are great. Being outdoors, I get to ride on ATVs. I have a nice vehicle. I get to patrol out of a boat. It’s really an awesome job. I love it.

“We’re very thankful to Academy for being rewarded for getting out and doing a job we love to do.”

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