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High School Students Design Commemorative Coin

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Both sides of the Somerville Police Unity Tour Challenge Coin designed by three Somerville High School seniors. Credits: Vito Spadea
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The Challenge Coin designers are (from left) Gillian Belkin, Junior Ramirez and Emily Hickson, with Somerville police officer Vito Spadea. Credits: Vito Spadea
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SOMERVILLE, NJ – Three proud Somerville High School seniors have something tangible to show for their participation in a competitive project in Linda Conklin’s communications design class.

Emily Hickson, Gillian Belkin and Junior Ramirez combined their artistic talents to design a limited edition commemorative Challenge Coin that combines a variety of elements reflective of Somerville and the annual Police Unity Tour.

This is the second consecutive year that SHS students designed the coin at the behest of Somerville police officer Vito Spadea, who participates in the 300-mile Police Unity Tour, a four-day cycling event that begins in Florham Park and concludes in the nation’s capital.

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The cyclists pass through Somerville on the first day of the event.

Spadea challenged the students to research the Police Unity Tour and to come up with a design for a commemorative coin to help raise funds for the grueling cross-country cycling event May 9-12 which attracts thousands of police officers from across the nation riding hundreds of miles on bicycles on their way to Washington, D.C. the location of the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial and Museum.

The project turned into a civics lesson with 18 students submitting designs which were reviewed by Spadea and Conklin.

As was the case last year, the final design became a collaborative effort.

Designs were submitted on an anonymous basis, with Spadea narrowing the choice down to three different designs. Instead of choosing one of the final three, he opted to blend elements of the three designs submitted by the three finalists. Hickson's concept included the shape of the coin and the American flag; Belkin and Ramirez contributed many of the design elements incorporated into the badge.

The coin is shaped like a badge and is brass plated with several colors in enamel.

The raised surface coin features the shoulder patch of the Somerville Police Department, two bicycles, the date 2018, two small bicycles, a red, white and blue shield and reads ‘Team Somerville From NJ to DC.” The border is edged with a bicycle chain.

The obverse features the American flag and the symbol of the Unity Tour, a police shield and red rose. It is engraved “2018 Police Unity Tour, We Ride for Those Who Died.”

Both Ramirez and Hickson will attend Raritan Valley Community College next year; Belkin will attend the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township. None of the three plan to major in graphic design. 

The students also learned from Spadea how supportive the Somerville community has been to the police officers who ride their bikes through town on their way to Washington DC.

Students from Immaculata High School and Immaculate Conception School cheer the riders as they stream down Mountain Avenue before turning on to Main Street; thousands more jam Main Street in downtown Somerville as the riders arrive, passing beneath a huge American flag hung from the extended ladders of two fire trucks.  Students from Van Derveer School on Route 28 come outdoors to wish the riders well as they leave town.

“Somerville has always turned out in big numbers to show their support,” Spadea said. “A lot of the police officers from other towns that ride on the tour always tell me, ‘Nobody has anything like that.’”

The primary purpose of the Police Unity Tour is to raise awareness of Law Enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

The commemorative coin is protected by a plastic sleeve; inside, the manufacturer has included a short description including the orgin and customs of the Challenge Coin:

“Challenge Coins surfaced during the World War II era. The practice of carrying a coin designed specifically for a unit was popular with the Army Special Forces. Carrying the coin at all times and presenting it when “challenged” to prove affiliation with that unit, resulted in a number of consequences for those who could not produce a coin; the most popular required the coinless soldier to buy a round of drinks. That practice continues to be popular today.”

The use of challenge coins has broadened into the political, corporate and civilian sectors, and are used to commemorate events, as tokens of friendship and given in recognition of a job well done.

Spadea and fellow Somerville Police Officer George Obiedzinsky, along with Tim Franks (Ret.) are in training for the race and will dedicate their efforts to fallen police officers, including two from Somerville that were killed in the line of duty 100 years ago.

A memorial erected by the Somerville PBA alongside the doorway into police headquarters memorializes Officer Manning T. Crow, shot after confronting three burglars in a butcher shop on South Street in 1899 and Officer Julius Sauer who was shot by a man threatening suicide in 1917. After shooting Sauer, the man killed himself.

Each cyclist must raise close to $2,000 to participate in the Unity Tour, according to Spadea. Some of that money pays for each cyclist’s hotel, food and other related expenses. What’s not spent is donated to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund. After paying production costs, Spadea was able to raise close to $2,000.

The Somerville Police Unity Tour commemorative coins were available for $10 and are sold out, according to Spadea.  

Further information about the Police Unity Tour is available online at www.policeunitytour.com.

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