It is hard to believe that on September 12 it will have been ten years since Lane Kemper left us. It was an unfinished life. Those of us who worked and played with him remember a talented man of competence, camaraderie and compassion. He epitomized all that a fireman should be.
From the time Lane started as a student worker in the firehouse, and well into his achievements as a respected LAFD fireman and officer, his work ethic and passion put him a cut above most. His career-long study and understanding of forcible entry – and exit – and situational awareness, along with his willingness to share and teach, led him into national prominence. His contributions likely fueled early discussions of what we now know as fire ground survival.
Lane always wanted to share his enthusiasm with his fellow firemen, especially in the form of friendly competition. He knew that mixing up the cast of characters found in firehouses all over the city in some form of friendly physical competition . . . no badges or stripes . . . is an effective way to blow off steam and reinforce the bonds that come with our unique profession.
From an early age, due to tragedy in his own family, Lane realized the value of helping those in need. When his father, an LAFD fireman, became disabled their family found needed support from his extended fire family through the LA Firemen’s Relief Assn. Lane never forgot that. He was directly responsible for raising awareness and a lot of money for LAFRA. He wasn’t a bean counter but he knew every little bit counts.
Enter the Lane Kemper Softball Classic. The modern, high tech, big dollar softball tourney that bears his name has evolved into a months long preparation involving scores of volunteers. Lane may be rolling his eyes at the complexities in today’s world but surely he smiles down at the simple, friendly competition between fire laddies and lassies happening on the ball fields. And surely he approves that the significant proceeds generated by the event will benefit needy members through the Widows, Orphans & Disabled Firemen’s Fund. Most of all, surely he is pleased to witness actual firehouse camaraderie supported by volunteers from friends and family.
With recent tragic losses of active members we are reminded that the importance of connection and support in times of need cannot be overstated. We need to be vigilant and informed in order to be effective in dealing with tragedy when it strikes. And it will strike again. Lane Kemper is gone but he left us with such good examples of how to live with passion and purpose. It is on us to carry the torch.
So, here we go! On Wednesday, May 11, 2016, cool, overcast skies prevailed over a gathering hundreds of players and volunteers in Lane Kemper’s name for a day of fun- raising and fundraising. Not quite the old “cooler of beer and bring your own bats” days but a significant gathering, nonetheless.
The now familiar task force of rolling BBQ’s from Mark Curry, Eric Stevens and Greg Pascola were lined up and lit in preparation of Curry’s award winning ribs n’ slaw. The well-uniformed cast of servers efficiently doled out the portions.
Valerie Lawrence and her wonderful staff of volunteers from LAFRA, sponsor groups and friends organized the raffle, silent auction, T-shirt sales and other support and services that makes the fundraising so successful.
Keith Bandy, the new IC, coordinated the competition with help, or hindrance, from lame duck leader, Bill Bringas. Rick Denning took on the thankless and hazardous task of arranging umpires for each field. Other volunteers, new and old, scurried about ensuring fields were ready and things and people were where they needed to be.
The action was kicked off with a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem by Gedina Bergstrom from the City Employees Club, reminding us how fortunate we are to be part of this grand place we call America. Bill Bringas was honored with a presentation and special award recognizing his efforts to keep Lane’s idea alive.
After emotions settled down, rules were reviewed, fields were assigned, the green light given and with a silent “Play Ball” from above, the floodgates of fun were opened. 22 teams from all corners of the city came to play. Some came with nice uniforms, some came with costumes. A can of LAFD red, a cardboard stencil and a white v-neck did it for some. Some settled for old tattered jump-jumps. Some came to win. Some were happy with the old “2 and BBQ” theory. Every team was supposed to get three games. Hopefully, everyone remembered the objective was FUN.
Competition was at times intense, clumsy, lop-sided and comical. There may be some more accurate or colorful adjectives, but there was no shortage of entertainment. It was great to see some retired guys hanging it out there with the kids. Seems like there were more strikeouts this year. Was it the old timer’s pitching, the cheap a*% mushroom balls or something in the air? As always, there is some incredible talent out there as well as some unbelievable luck. The perennial powerhouses as well as some welcome sleepers made the elimination rounds interesting. 22 teams were winnowed down in some very competitive contests resulting in four of the best in the semi-finals. 33’s beat 10’s in a hard fought contest in the first semifinal game and 98’s bested 37’s by the mercy rule in the second semifinal. All played tough but the long day took its toll. Finally, those who stayed got to watch the young buck’s from 33’s show off the advantages of youth and strength to a willing but weary 98’s team, resulting in a not- so-surprising three-peat win. So trophy and bragging rights stay at 33‘s . . . for now.
With that, thanks to all who participated in the 2016 Kemper Classic. Sponsors, supporters, volunteers and especially players joined, once again, to honor Lane Kemper and the spirit of brotherhood in the LAFD. Together, you made a difference.
By Mr. Jim Stiglich
Photos by Deborah Lew, Eric Santiago and Terry Miranda