Combine 32 hard-fighting teams, a multitude of manicured grass fields, and a handful of geometric shaped diamonds, and you have the makings of a charity themed day of fun—in other words, the 2019 Lane Kemper Classic. On April 30, 2019, over 300 of LAFD’s finest firefighters, along with their family and friends, gathered to once again honor the memory of Captain Lane Kemper who passed away in 2006. In doing so they not only paid homage to a man that exemplified the title of volunteer, but they also raised thousands of dollars for the Widows, Orphans, & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund.
The Balboa Boulevard complex slowly came to life as the army of volunteers filled the parking lot in preparation for the early morning festivities. As in past years the weather threatened play, but the sun finally prevailed bringing warmth to the playing fields. Juliet Brandolino and Keith Bandy’s months of hard work paid off as the day’s events played out. Juliet and Keith weren’t alone in their efforts. Valerie Lawrence and Diane Vigil were also hard at work, along with a cadre of volunteers. Together they all represented the best of the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association.
The Relief’s Trevor Kuresa and his team of volunteers quickly assembled the tables and constructed the easy-ups. Scores of other volunteers began unloading the wonderful auction items graciously donated by the event’s sponsors. From valuable trips and fun-packed gift baskets, to a custom fire pit that made more than one person at the event dream of seeing it ablaze in their own yard, the multitude of donated items helped the Lane Kemper team of volunteers raise much appreciated funds for the WODFF.
With all the teams gathered around the main complex of the park, Brian Newon started the event off with a prayer, followed by a musical rendition of the National Anthem. Keith Bandy, along with scores of others, then went over the rules, set field assignments for the teams, and the day’s events were set into motion.
There were so many teams participating in the tournament that all eight fields of the sport complex were put to use as the first round of play proceeded. Though the first game was only for practice and didn’t immediately eliminate any of the teams, one would had been hard pressed to tell the difference between the practice and championship round. Speaking of firsts, the members of Fire Station 114 made their debut at the event, fielding the first team ever for the flyboys and crash members.
In game one against the team of Fire Inspectors, Pilot II Jonith Johnson had one of the first hits, driving one deep into the outfield. As if he had wings, he stretched what should have been a single into a hard-fought double. Unfortunately, thinking he was tagged out, he stepped off the bag and was initially called out. Fortunately, the field gods had mercy on him and he remained on base. Fire Station 10 and 14 also pushed the envelope in their first game, showing they were there to play some serious ball. In another game, Fire Station 29’s Brandon Elliot, made a “SportsCenter” moment dive for a hard hit flyball, coming up a little bit short—an “A” for effort was given just the same.
Midday, a scheduling issue caused another unique game to be played on one of the fields. Members participating were asked to balance a bat in the palm of their hand and race around the bases—the first one to win would advance to the next game. It was a battle for the lead against a member from Station 15 and 33, with 15 crossing home first. The only problem was the member from Station 15 had also used his fingers to control the balance of the bat, disqualifying him and causing the game to go to Team 33. In the afternoon, UFLAC President Freddie Escobar made an appearance at the event in support of the troops and the cause. He watched alongside the crowd of people cheering on the players while enjoying the camaraderie.
In one of the final eight games, Travis Rice of Fire Station 29 made a diving catch to rob Station 66 of a hit, allowing 29 to overcome the team from South Los Angeles and advance to the final four. Fire Stations 64 and 39 had to play a tie breaker inning to see who would advance to the final four, with Station 64 winning. The final four were Station 2 vs. 29 and 64 vs. 98. Richard Cervantes hit a solo home run to help Station 98 move into the finals, while Cory D’Arrigo made a spectactualr catch, allowing Station 2 to move forward in a heart breaker against Station 29.
The final game started out a little lopsided, with the team from the east side taking a commanding lead with great fielding and hitting from all. Alfredo Larios of Station 2 showed he still had plenty fight in him even after taking a hard hit in the face from a ball off of the first baseman’s glove earlier in the day. If there were an MVP for the event, it would have easily gone to Chad Corona of Fire Station 2. His pitching, along with his hitting strength, proved to be a formable foe against the team from the Valley. Casey Ketelsleger, also at Station 2, made his presence known with a home run of his own. The team from the Valley didn’t go quietly though. Station 98 quickly answered back with multiple runs of their own—one run being from an inside-the-park home run from Rich Cervantes. By the fifth inning the game was all tied up 15-15. In the end, the East Los Angeles team of Station 2 proved too much for the members of the Valley as they took the championship 24-18.
Once again, we want to thank Mark Curry and his crew of culinary magicians for the great food and hard work. Special thanks also go out to all the sponsors, especially Brad Standage of Galloway Asset Management and the law team at Straussner & Sherman who were at the event all day long answering questions about financial management and legal matters.
As the day came to a close, I know Lane Kemper would have been proud of this year’s event. The true spirit of why we were all there was kept intact, with fun had by all. Though there was only one final winner of the tournament, at the end of the day, the true winner was the Widows, Orphans, & Disabled Firefighter’s Fund. Thanks again to all involved in making the 2019 Lane Kemper Classic one to remember. Hope to see you all next year!
By John Hicks
Photos by Deborah Lew, David Blaire, John Hicks, and Eric Santiago