Toes dug into the sand, sun was in the sky and drops of sweat dripped down faces as two sides faced off. A friendly volleyball match at the beach, right?
Friday afternoon was serious for law enforcement officers of Nassau and Suffolk counties who took to the sandbox arena at Jones Beach for the sixth annual Long Island Police Tug-Of-War Championship, sponsored by radio station WBAB 102.3 FM and benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. Months of training went into the competition, which pitted the counties’ law enforcement officers in four categories: women of law enforcement, deputy sheriffs, correction officers and police departments.
“These guys have been training since January,” said Brian Thomas, 44, of Ronkonkoma, a Nassau County correction officer who helped organize the event. “The Nassau County correction officers are unstoppable and this year we had them train with the Nassau County Police Department, so they’ve been doing things like carrying tires and pulling buses and tow trucks.”
The competition’s intensity became apparent when a member of the Nassau County Police Department collapsed and required medical attention after helping his team defeat Suffolk in the final bout of the evening. The officer received oxygen and left the beach on a stretcher.
“The officer was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital where he was treated,” said Joe Grella, a Nassau County police officer and captain of the NCPD team, who wouldn’t divulge the officer’s name. “He suffered from a heat issue and dehydration, but he’s doing OK now.”
Earlier Friday, the “unstoppable” Nassau County correction officers sought their fourth straight title over their Suffolk County counterparts.
The whistle blew, and the crowd of more than 1,000 roared for 2 1/2 minutes as the correction officers battled with clenched teeth and knuckles. The coaches of both teams fired off words of encouragement while signaling when to “pull” or “hold.” After a solid stalemate, Nassau County finally pulled ahead slightly, opening up an opportunity for it to take home the trophy. Exerting every last ounce of strength for a final pull, the whistle blew and Nassau had claimed the title.
Similar battles occurred between the women of law enforcement, which saw Nassau pulling off the win, and the deputy sheriffs, where Suffolk prevailed.
“At first, you don’t realize how competitive the atmosphere here is,” said Alison Kurz, 33, of Wantagh, a relative of one of the participants. “It takes a lot out of them physically and you can tell that they’re really out there to win.”
Serving as one of the guest referees for the matches was Christopher Levi, 30, of Holbrook, who lost both of his legs while serving in Iraq and participates in the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that helps serve wounded service members. Levi said he was honored to be asked to participate in the event, which also featured the band Wonderous Stories playing at the Friendly’s Bandshell stage and raffles that benefited the Wounded Warrior Project. The exact amount raised has not yet been announced.
“I’m always impressed by the number of people that come out for these events and the best part is that they’re actually here for the main event [the tug-of-war bouts], and not just the little things like the band or the beach,” he said. “The officers really take this seriously. They train all year and when they’re out there competing, you can tell that they’re pushing themselves to the breaking point.”