WESTFIELD, NJ — There was a significant police presence at the Westfield Unity Games over the Labor Day weekend.
Firefighters were on the scene, too. But there were no apparent crimes to solve and no fire, save the flames keeping the grill at a taco stand hot on Sunday.
The first responders competed with neighborhood youths in the 28th annual Unity Games. While the basketball games at Windsor Park have been a longstanding tradition for the neighborhood, Sunday’s game marked the first time in the games’ history that first responders took to the court.
“It wasn’t a matter of coming out here and saying we’re going to win or anything like that,” said Fire Chief Anthony Tiller. “It’s just a matter of showing our faces and letting the people know, in this community down here, who we are, who the cops are who the firefighters are and showing that guess what: We’re here to have fun and participate just like you.”
While the first responders had worked together fighting fires and responding to car crashes among other incidents, it marked the first time members of both departments found themselves playing basketball on the court together, the chief said.
Taking that into consideration, Police Chief Chris Battiloro said, “We played a pretty competitive game.”
The home team scored 21 points to the first responders’ three points by half time and by the end of the last quarter, it became clear the first responders were not there for a win.
Antwan Clark, the principal organizer of this year’s Unity Day, noted the strong turnout for the basketball games, which included competition from Plainfield, donations of school supplies for an annual drive to benefit local children and the expansion of the event to include more games for children. The addition of a food stand from Taco Mania of Plainfield was also a hit, he said.
“This is the best I’ve seen it,” Clark said around 6 p.m. “And it’s only going to get better.”
Asked what the final tally in the first responder game was, Clark pointed to the participation as what counted the most. “They gave a great effort,” he said.
Dominique Blackmon, 27, scored several layups during the competition.
While first responders have attended Unity Day in past years, Blackmon noted, seeing them in the competition was a first.
“Getting the cops and the fireman to come out and join us this year was a lot of fun,” Blackmon said.
Officer Matt O’Holla, who is heading up the second season of the Westfield Police PBA basketball league at Edison Intermediate School this fall, enjoyed the game.
“Anytime I get a chance to play basketball, I’m happy to come out and play,” O’Holla said. “I enjoyed the game. I enjoyed the sport. I enjoy the camaraderie out here.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh