In fire vs. police contest, awareness wins

by Jordan Green

The firefighters were celebrating in the parking lot of Hanes Hosiery Community Center on Sunday evening in a sea of red and pink T-shirts with a ladder truck parked prominently on the corner of Reynolds Boulevard and Akron Drive.

Those pink shirts were presumably conceived as a way to raise awareness about breast cancer, but they certainly suited the cause at hand — consciousness about domestic violence.

Police officers, in contrast were scarce 10 minutes after the game punctually ended at 6 p.m.

No knots of blue T-shirts. No laudatory gaggles. No lingering conversations.

“I wondered why they brought all their fire vehicles,” quipped color commentator OC Wardlow as the firefighters widened their lead to a final score of 48-39 in the fourth quarter. “I guess they don’t want to get any tickets going home.”

Although the firefighters carried the trophy out, it was really the police officers’ ballgame, and at least one police officer was beaming at the end of the contest.

“The idea started with the victims assistance coordinators, who are police employees,” Lt. Chris Lowder said. “They came up with the idea. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The police and firefighters have basketball teams, and we just thought a great way to raise awareness would be playing each other in a basketball game.”

This was the inaugural event, and Lowder said next year the department aims to build a fundraising component into the game.

Leaving the community center, fire Chief Antony Farmer noted with satisfaction that the domestic violence awareness game constituted reciprocation after the fire department invited their police counterparts to play a game for the After the Fire event to raise money for people burned out of their houses.

“I believe fire is up two games,” he said, “so obviously they’re going to have to practice.”

Lowder attended the game with his son. “A lot of this is about, when you call 911, there’s a crisis or an emergency,” he said. “We want people to see us in another light. We’re here to raise awareness about domestic violence. But it’s a way for us to give back to the community in a positive way. There are a lot of firefighters and police officers who are here with their families, and it’s a way for us to step outside of the firstresponder role.”

The cops and firefighters wore different kinds of uniforms on the court: Winston-Salem’s finest wore blue naturally, and the bravest wore red.

The kids got to model the first-responder identity. Young boys representing each department competed in a free-throw contest, which began with rifling through a pile of clothing at half court. The older boy managed to pull on fire boots, a shirt and hat first, followed by his opponent donning standard-issue police boots, shirt and peaked cap. The smaller boy took position almost directly under the basket and powered the ball with all his might, scrupulously retrieving his cap each time it fell.

“The enthusiastic fireman won,” Wardlow said. “I’m sorry, the policeman won. Y’all keep your uniforms on. Report for work tomorrow.”

The firefighters put on a better show, but the police might have come with more heart.

Winston-Salem’s bravest made their way onto the floor led by a swaggering Sparky the Fire Dog in a haze of smoke as the Winston-Salem State University cheerleading squad leant hype and class.

The finest came out to the sound of “Bad Boys” followed by a small cheerleading squad from the Enrichment Center, known as the EC Stars, a group of special-needs adults whose standout member was a tall, enthusiastic, young man.

City Manager Lee Garrity may have been enjoying himself the most, pointing with delight towards the police department’s young freethrow proxy.

“Domestic violence is a very serious thing for our community,” he said. “This is a very good thing to raise awareness of. Let’s have fun. And whichever team wins, I’m going to buy barbecue for all of ’em.”

After a sloppy and spirited first quarter, the floor opened for all comers to dance the Wobble. Judge Camille Banks-Payne, wearing an NC A&T University jersey, strolled onto the floor. Sparky boogied with the Winston-Salem State University cheerleaders. Officer Claudia Morgan, a cheerleading coach, danced with her EC Stars.

Police Chief Barry Rountree watched from the sidelines, as Wardlow urged him to join the fray.

As the game progressed, Wardlow teased the players.

“Mr. Singletary, I don’t think they’re keeping fouls in this game, but if they were you’d be out.”

“Austin is the best air-ball passer in here.” One of the firefighters’ supporters vociferously protested a couple calls by the referee that he deemed to be too lax on the police.

“We got a hostile fan in here,” Wardlow commented.

Later, he remarked, “You’re gonna get a ticket when you leave here.”

As the fourth quarter wound down, the firefighters intensified their assault and widened their lead.

“They’re on fire,” Wardlow enthused. “It’s firefighting time.”