In the state capital city of Augusta, Maine, a relationship between law enforcement and USA Softball has blossomed into an annual tournament geared towards raising money for law enforcement charities. The #BlueLivesMatter tournament is the brainchild of Deputy Brittany Johnson, a detective with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta.
In 2015 Johnson, with the help of many others, held the inaugural #BlueLivesMatter tournament in the small town of Winslow, 30 minutes north of Augusta. The tournament has been held every year since, usually at the end of August or beginning of September, with each team made up of a different law enforcement agency and all the proceeds donated to a law enforcement charity or family.
Jeff Marshall, USA Softball of Maine District 6 Commissioner, has coordinated with USA Softball of Maine Umpires to donate umpires to the tournament relieving costs and enabling the donation of all the proceeds to charity. The past two years Dove Tail Bats, a baseball bat manufacturer, donated four bats at each field along with bats for the winning agencies and others to auction off with all proceeds donated as well.
“From day one, this tournament was designed to bring positive support for law enforcement officers,” said Johnson, who played softball at Thomas College in Waterville, Maine where the tournament was held in 2016 and 2017.
The entry fee is $200 for the 10-16 teams that participate and with concerns about shorter fields after moving the tournament to Sidney, Maine the past two years, a $5 home run rule was incorporated. Each team was given two free home runs then had to pay $5 (before batting) if they wanted a home run to count. This rule has helped raise around $1,500 additionally each year and Johnson says the players seem to love it.
The one-day tournament donated around $1,500 each of the first three years to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, DC dedicated to telling the story of American Law Enforcement and making it safer for those who serve. The Memorial Fund built and maintains the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial—the nation’s monument to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. It is also a principal organizer of the National Police Week observance each May and hosts a Candlelight Vigil each year to honor all fallen officers.
The past two years of the tournament have been more personal for the participants, however. In 2018 Corporal Eugene Cole, a U.S. Army veteran who served with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office for 13 years was shot and killed in the line of duty.
“This tragic incident hit close to home and I decided to shift the tournament to directly support one of our own,” said Johnson.
That year the tournament raised over $6,200 for Cpl. Cole’s family—his wife of 41 years and four sons, one of whom also serves with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.
In 2019 Detective Ben Campbell was struck and killed by a vehicle tire while assisting a disabled vehicle. Campbell had served with the Maine State Police for nine years. The tournament raised over $5,000 for Campbell’s surviving wife and son.
“The situations hit close to home for so many,” said Marshall. “Both the officers who were killed were very close by and watching the funerals and processions to honor those men made me want to make sure we did a small part to help.”
Each year, the late officer’s agency won the tournament—Somerset Sheriff’s Office in 2018 with Cpl. Cole’s daughter and son both competing, and the Maine State Police in 2019.
“It just worked out that way, but in my opinion, it speaks volumes,” Johnson said of the tournament wins.
Kennebec Sheriff's Office won the tournament in 2015 followed by Waterville Police Department in 2016 and Augusta Police Department in 2017. Proceeds going to charities close to participants has caused the tournament to continue to grow and become more competitive. The participants range in ages from 16-60 with different levels of softball experience on the field. The love of law enforcement brings them together and coming back year after year.
“I think the camaraderie between the organizers and teams has really increased since the start of the tournament,” Marshall said.
Both Johnson and Marshall credit USA Softball JO Commissioner of Maine Cleveland “Brownie” Brown as the glue that holds the tournament together.
“Brownie has been my rock every year and has helped me navigate organizing this tournament,” said Johnson. “He takes care of the bathrooms, fields, balls, insurance, and everything else you can imagine.”
“That man does some amazing things for all softball around here,” added Marshall. “He turned this tournament from some softball games among cops to a real event.”
COVID-19 currently has the tournament for 2020 up in the air, but organizers hope to keep the tournament going for years to come after the success already seen from the law enforcement agencies involved.
“I honestly never expected the tournament to continue as long as it has,” said Johnson. “It seems it has got bigger and bigger each year. I never expected the ‘outside world’ donating so much time, money and energy to make this tournament successful. It has really resonated with me and many other law enforcement officers.”