Can Am Police and Fire Games
This sports competition, open to both active and retired fire and law enforcement personnel of North America, was held in the greater Spokane area. The magnitude and variety of the games required utilizing facilities over a large geographic area. Quad Baseball Park in Post Falls, Idaho, was included in “Greater Spokane.” Distance made it difficult to follow a series of events and one learns to appreciate television, which can bring and entire Olympics into a living room.
The purpose of the competition is to promote physical fitness and camaraderie among the different agencies that will be working together in case of a major emergency. This year’s games were dedicated to the memory of heroes lost September 11th.
The event provides a destination vacation. For example, a busload of officers, including cheerleading family, from Regina, Saskatchewan, made the 16 hour trip to compete in the softball competition.
Many events promote job skills proficiency such as pistol shooting. For example, the Bonner County Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team placed fourth in the SWAT competition, which mimics real life situations. Most events serve only to provide a fun competition, like the golf tournament. Spouses are also eligible to compete, allowing officers to play with their spouse in mixed-doubles tennis.
The games emphasize participation and spectators tend to be limited to those with a personal interest. The press is conspicuous in its absence, although a few newspapers and TV media provided some recognition. Each tournament is independent, with its own director, and the success of one event does not relate to the others. Participants concentrate on their own competition and many do not follow the games in general. Each activity generates its own human-interest story.
Visualize a stereotypical fireman pitching horseshoes as he waits for the alarm to sound. As a child, I remember watching just such a thing. This is certainly not true in today’s modern fire departments. I never had time to throw a horseshoe at my Los Angeles County fire station and did not take up the sport until after retirement. Still, the horseshoe-pitching competition is a staple of the event.
For me, the highlight of this year’s games was meeting the Rippetoe brothers, Othal and Harlon. Both are retired from the California State Department of Correction prison system. Othal lives in Sacramento and Harlon lives in Madera. They drove up with their wives to participate in the horseshoe tournament. In fact, they routinely travel from one horseshoe-pitching competition to another in order to participate in their favorite hobby. Both are proficient at their sport and it was an honor to be in the company of such talent. Othal finished first while brother Harlon took second place in the single’s event. A horseshoe tournament is a “round robin” competition, meaning that everyone plays against each other and no one is eliminated.
The two brothers were an unbeatable combination in the double’s event. I teamed up with the singles bronze medal winner, Ron Ovnicek, a retired firefighter from the Spokane Fire Department, to take the distant second position in the doubles tournament.
To show how serious the Rippetoe family is about this sport, Othal’s wife, Judy, and Harlan’s wife, Sharon, entered the doubles competition and were awarded the bronze medal. Ladies can compete with the men but throw from a shorter distance to equalize the sex-strength differential.
By the end of the games, many had exchanged addresses with new-found friends and made promises to keep in contact in the hope of seeing each other next year. The next games will be held July 2004 in London, Ontario, Canada. That’s a little too far for me to consider, so I am glad to have had the event so close to my backyard of northern Idaho.