More than 200 police officers, their families and friends turned out Sunday night to root for their favorite men in blue as Suffolk and Nassau County police officers squared off in the first Law Enforcement Basketball Tournament.
At $20 apiece, tickets to the event at the NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum helped raise money to benefit 9/11 Veterans of Long Island, a nonprofit organization that provides veterans assistance.
“As much as a friendly rivalry as this is, we are all in this together and we’re one team, really working together to keep Long Island safe and our region safe,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said before the game. Besides fundraising, Hart said the event also provided a recruitment opportunity.
Though Nassau Police took home the trophy, winning 35-25, the event was more than a competition, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick J. Ryder said. “It’s solidarity. It’s brotherhood.”
The event comes after the Feb. 12 death of New York City police Det. Brian Simonsen of Calverton, who was killed in a friendly fire shooting in Queens. Hundreds of officers including those from both Suffolk and Nassau counties attended his funeral in Hampton Bays last week.
“We came together in a sign of solidarity and again as a brotherhood here in law enforcement,” Ryder said, adding that Sunday’s game was a similar coming together but on a far brighter note.
“It’s about raising money, showing that we give back also, and we’re going to give back to our veterans, which are the true patriots,” he said.
For Cindy Serrano-Graaf, 51 of Copiague, the chance to see her son, Vincent Aponte, a Nassau police officer and U.S. Army veteran, play basketball made her feel like one “proud mamma,” she said. “[I’m] very appreciative of the public servant he’s become for the community.”
Maeve Gayer, 10 of Eastport, enjoyed seeing her dad, Suffolk K-9 Officer Brendan Gayer, play on the big court.
“He introduced us to basketball,” she said of herself and her sister Clare, 13. “He just has a great passion for the sport.
Together they cheered from the bleachers with their mother, Carly Gayer.
“They’re a team at work and they’re a team on the court,” said Gayer.
The event Sunday kicked off with the Brooklyn Nets NBA G-League team and Long Island Nets hosting the Memphis Hustle, followed by the game between the county police agencies and then the New York State court officers and New York State troopers faced off.
“We have a real commitment to investing in the community and the community means everybody who lives in it, including Nassau County and Suffolk County police,” said Alton Byrd, vice president of business operations for the Long Island Nets, which sponsored the event.