The court buzzed with the distinct sounds of crowd approval and blips of police radio.
Missing the prompt 7 p.m. start time meant standing room only in the packed gym, as approximately 100 guests sat in on the Battle of the Badges basketball tournament at Gustine Recreation Center on Oct. 3.
The charitable tournament landed for the first time in Philadelphia from Oct. 3-5 to honor late officer Moses Walker Jr., who was shot and killed off-duty in August 2012 on Cecil B. Moore Ave. Walker Jr. served 19 years in the 22nd police district, which monitors North Philadelphia and the area surrounding Temple.
Officer Jerome Hall began Battle of the Badges in Baltimore in 2000. Hall organized what he planned to be a one-time fundraiser in honor of his mentor and fallen officer, Maryland State Trooper Edward M. Toatley.
“I had been playing law enforcement basketball for a few years, and I just wanted to raise money for [Toatley’s] son to go to college,” Hall said. “I gave him $2,000 to go to [the University of Connecticut].”
Word spread rapidly when the New York Police Department’s team won the $2,000 tournament, Hall said. Calls came in from Ohio, Nevada, and other distant states that wanted to be a part of the tournament. Hall recruited the help of retired Lieutenant Melody Smith, and was able to launch a nation-wide program.
“It was supposed to be a one-time thing to send Antoine to college,” Smith said. “[Hall] got all kinds of praise and people said that we couldn’t do this just once. This is his calling. He can do anything he puts his mind to, and has been a blessing to a lot of families.”
Fourteen years later, Hall has traveled across the United States hosting several basketball tournaments every year in honor of law enforcement officials. The Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Tournament takes place in January and Battle of the Badges is held in October.
For the past five summers, Hall has also hosted a Battle of the Badges I-95 tournament in July, but plans to cut down to the main two tournaments in the future. After 22 tournaments, Hall said the organization has raised more than $12,000.
The Philadelphia pit stop marks the first tournament of its kind in the city, and extended the motto to brotherly and sisterly love. The first game of the evening was a historical match-up between two women’s teams – Philly’s Finest and the Department of Corrections All-Stars from Maryland. With a final score of 42-38 in overtime, the home team took the win in the only law enforcement basketball tournament to include women on the East Coast.
“It’s history in the making,” Hall said. “I just want these families to know that their loss is our loss. When their family member put their right hand up and took an oath, it was to protect and serve their city but it was also to protect and serve their brothers and sisters. It’s something I just have to do.”
The funds from the 2014 tournament will directly benefit the Moses Walker Jr. Foundation, which Wayne Lipscomb, Walker Jr.’s mother, created in the days following his death. Each year, the foundation awards a $1,000 scholarship to a single parent with a GPA of 3.0 or above, and can be applied to financial aid for higher education, or to pay the recipient’s rent.
“[Walker Jr.] was my hero,” Lipscomb said. “I learned so much from him about being a good person and I just wanted to do something to pay it forward.”
In the three years that the scholarship has been awarded, Lipscomb has been the sole source of funding. In recognition of Lipscomb’s generosity and positive impact on the community, Battle of the Badges will direct all of the money raised from the tournament to the Moses Walker Jr. Foundation.
“It was so unexpected,” Lipscomb said. “It was amazing to know that people cared about my Moses in Philadelphia. Interest from outside of the city says a lot about the organization and the people who are dedicated to it.”
Hall describes law enforcement as a brotherhood that will uplift the downtrodden and always extend a hand. These fundamental principals are essential to law enforcement professions, and easily noticed.
“My heart is so full,” Lipscomb said. “I’ll run into police officers and they will say to me, ‘Ms. Wayne, I’m your son now – you’re family.’ Everyone has been so kind and supportive. If I need anything I know I can pick up the phone and call.”
Dorothy Johnson-Speight, an attendant and founder and CEO of Mothers in Charge, an organization focused on education and prevention of homicides, said that in law enforcement, there is a sense of brotherhood.
“It’s important that they support the families of the fallen and let them know that they are not forgotten,” Johnson-Speight said. “They are often times lost in the line of duty, and that’s quite a sacrifice for a family to have someone taken when they’re trying to protect against violence when he lived to prevent just that. To have his mom lose him in that way, this says to her, ‘We appreciate you and we care that you gave your son, in a sense, to the community.’”
The celebration of this brotherhood is illustrated in different ways, and what Hall has done has universalized that bond by honoring different officers in different cities, all under the name of the same game.
The boys in blue swiftly navigated the courts – in nine different shades of blue that is. In their strikingly similar basketball uniforms, their devotion to an honorable cause and a healthy, heated banter between teams, these public servants showed their unity.
Only one stood apart however, as New York Department of Corrections Rikers Island Gunners took the title of 2014 Battle of the Badge champions. The team was bestowed with bragging rights for one year, until the tournament returns in October 2015 to an undetermined location in either Houston, Miami, or Virginia Beach.
Brianna Spause can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org