Police, firefighters clash in friendly competition
Public safety workers from around world come to Fairfax for event
Richard Connell says he fights to win. But the New York corrections officer, ranked nationally in judo, also fights for another reason: honor.
“It’s a very honorable sport, to come out and compete with honorable men,” he said.
On Saturday, he joined thousands of fellow police officers, firefighters and public safety workers in Fairfax County in the first full day of competition at the World Police and Fire Games, an Olympics-like event featuring traditional sports as well as unconventional ones, such as stair-racing.
The event has been welcomed with fanfare in Fairfax, where planning has been under way since 2009. Nearly 6,000 people, most from Northern Virginia, volunteered to check in spectators, guide athletes and set up games during the 10-day event.
But the turnout— an estimated 9,600 competitors — is less than the 12,000 that had been expected. Officials now estimate the games will draw about $55 million in spending to the county, said Stephen Zack, a spokesman for Fairfax 2015, the nonprofit organization that is running the event. Previously, the estimated economic impact had been as high as $80 million.
Saturday dawned dark and drizzly, forcing the postponement of outdoor sports such as baseball and tennis. But athletes showed up for nearly a dozen other sports, many juggling bulky gear bags and umbrellas.
At George Mason University in Fairfax, volunteers repurposed the track and field building by rolling out thick mats for the Japanese martial art of judo. In the stands, competitors put on gis — uniforms resembling karate apparel— and wrapped their knuckles with athletic tape to protect ligaments from snapping.
Several competitors said they were there for one reason: winning.
“I didn’t get dressed up for nothing,” said Mark Montgomery, 41, of Northern Ireland. Montgomery, a firefighter who has practiced judo since he was 10, ran and lifted weights twice weekly for months to train for the Games.
Connell, who trained Saturday with Montgomery, agreed.
“If I win, I want to win with a big throw,” Connell said, imitating a move. “I’ve been practicing.”
Within the first half hour of judo matches, a competitor was helped off the mat, bleeding from one foot as a Fairfax County ambulance pulled up outside.
Spectators were split between family members and athletes from other events supporting friends. The vast majority were foreigners.
“It’s not every day you get to take part in an international competition,” said rugby player Nigel Seaman, whosaid he was supporting two other members of his group of corrections officers from England.
He marveled at Mason’s facilities. “We don’t have anything like this” in Britain, he said.
Elsewhere on Mason’s campus, teams of five prepped for 90-minute matches of basketball, passing the ball as their white-soled shoes squeaked on the court.
Some were repeat competitors— and winners. Aggelos Tripolitsiotis, who coaches the Athens Fire Brigade team from Greece, said this was the team’s third trip to the World Police and Fire Games, after winning gold in the last event in2013.
On the sidelines, members of Prince William County’s fire department, playing as first-timers, sized up the Greek players. The two teams are scheduled to play later in the Games.
“I’m looking for tendencies, what kind of defenses they play,” said firefighter David Wesley.
Despite the competitive zeal, hospitality also abounded.
Volunteers gave directions to participants who struggled to navigate the campus. Terry Ball, of Fairfax, staffed a check-in table Saturday morning and said she planned to work all 10 days of the event.
“It’s an opportunity to really say thanks to our first responders,” she said.
Jamel Perkins, a first lieutenant in the Fairfax County Sheriff ’s Office, said organizing the basketball games reminded him of the20 years he spent as a high school basketball coach.
On the court, women’s basketball teams exchanged small souvenirs from their home countries, said Fairfax County firefighter Liz Wagner, such as “pins or patches, shirts, calendars.” Teammate Joanna Balin fished from her bag the HongKong team’s souvenir: a keychain featuring a cheerful anime style policeman.
Their team, Fairfax Finest, was the least experienced in the women’s bracket. It split its first two games. But Wagner said she was enjoying playing basketball for the first time since high school. She didn’t rule out trying again: The team is considering a run at the 2017 World Police and Fire Games in Montreal.
“We could drive,” Wagner said. “It’s not far.”
Grace Jividen-Truesdale, who competed for the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics, faces Rebeca-Lavinia Brata of Romania in women's judo.