BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
NORFOLK — Softball teams from four Hampton Roads fire departments took the field at Harbor Park on Saturday, June 29, for this year’s Battle of the Bravest, a competition that embodies the long connection between fire fighters and the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The annual event, which raises funds to benefit the charity, began in 2016 with a game between Virginia Beach and Chesapeake teams. This year, Norfolk and Portsmouth participated, too.
“It’s for the kids, really,” said Virginia Beach fire Capt. B.J. Raftery, who plays for and coaches the Beach squad. “It’s a great opportunity to go out and play in an incredible stadium and to do it as part of what we do every year, Fill the Boot.”
Before the game, Raftery sold shirts to benefit the charity, and he interacted with the public and fellow firefighters, including Portsmouth Firefighter Eric Combs.
The Beach squad, while playing for charity, takes its softball seriously, and that reputation precedes it.
“What if we started every inning with the bases loaded?” Combs said, joking.
“We still win,” Raftery replied.
“They’re probably the best out here,” Combs said a moment later. “We just play for the charity event. We’re here to have fun. It all goes to a good cause.”
Cole Terrill, 9, of Smithfield is a good will ambassador for MDA who threw out the first pitch before the game between the Virginia Beach and Portsmouth teams. Mandy Williams, his mother, said the interactions with the firefighters at the park are positive for Terrill.
Terrill, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, said he likes the firefighters and the game.
After, his pitch, he was all smiles near the mound at Harbor Park. He snapped a picture with Raftery and Portsmouth Fire Lt. John Williford before play began.
The Beach team topped Portsmouth, but the scores don’t matter, Raftery said.
What matters is the real result – money raised for a worthy cause.
About $10,000 has been raised for charity through the games, and that does not include much more raised through the Fill the Boot fundraisers, which run from July through September this year.
The battle should be back next year, too.
“I just want to see this thing keep going year after year,” Raftery said.
The game marked the kickoff for this year’s Fill the Boot campaign, which is a signature effort in the longtime partnership between the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the International Association of Firefighters.
That teamwork dates back to 1954. Local unions and firefighters, with the support of departments, remain committed to the cause.
According to MDA, funds help pay for research and support programs for locals, and they help about 65 local kids attend an MDA summer camp at no cost.
Learn more about the MDA Fill the Boot campaign via filltheboot.donordrive.com.