SOMERVILLE, NJ – A competitive project in an advanced communications design class at Somerville High School turned into a civics lesson for 22 students who worked under deadline constraints to design a two-sided commemorative coin.

This wasn’t a project that came from the pages of a workbook, nor was it part of the curriculum at the beginning of the school year.

Somerville Police Officer Vito Spadea, the department’s community relations officer, approached Jerry Foley, SHS principal with the idea. Foley immediately approved, and together they spoke with Lisa Conklin, the design teacher who agreed to work on the project with the students in her two classes.

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“I wanted the students to learn on their own about the Police Unity Tour,” Spadea said.

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.

“They ‘googled’ the website; they didn’t know why we rode bikes, or how long the trip was,” Spadea said.

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 nd 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 secondary purpose is to raise funds for the police memorial and museum.

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, with bragging rights going to seniors Alexis Sajewski, Jeylynne Rosas and Alexander Ulikowski – none of whom intend to pursue design in college.

Sajewski is headed to James Madison University in Virginia and hopes to become a nurse; Rosas has been accepted at Rider University and intends to pursue a degree in criminal justice. Ulikowski will attend Raritan Valley Community College and is enrolled in the auto mechanics curriculum.

The coin is brass plated with several colors in enamel.

The coin features the mythological Wings of Mercury, the New Jersey State seal, and is ringed by a bicycle chain; it is engraved “2017, Team Somerville, From NJ to DC.”

The obverse features the American flag and the symbol of the Unity Tour, a police shield and red rose. It is engraved “2017 Police Unity Tour, We Ride for Those Who Died.”

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 Tim Franks 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 Somerville PBA #147 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 $1,850 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.

The Somerville Police Unity Tour commemorative coin is available through Spadea for $10.

“The idea is to spread awareness,” Spadea explained. “It would be easy to ask my PBA to sponsor me for the ride, but by me asking for single contributions it helps get people to know about the ride, what it is about and have them help out.

“They’re doing their part to honor a fallen police officer,” Spadea said.

Contact Spadea online at

Further information about the Police Unity Tour is available online at