Northeast Times

Glory is in the giving

— The Phil­adelphia Blue Flame has raised more than $250,000 in char­it­able dona­tions since its found­ing in 2003.

(Phil­adelphia, Pa.) Phil­adelphia Blue Flame Vs. Char­lotte Co­bras in ac­tion dur­ing a game held at North­east H.S. The Char­lotte Co­bras won the game 32-18.

It would be easy to dis­miss mem­bers of Phil­adelphia Blue Flame foot­ball team as old men play­ing a young man’s sport.

The Phil­adelphia area po­lice of­ficers, fire­fight­ers and first re­spon­ders who com­prise the 40-man roster would be the first to ad­mit that. Most reached a com­pet­it­ive zenith years ago dur­ing their high school days. And among the hand­ful that made it to the col­lege level, none ever be­came a house­hold name.

But to these men, who range in age from their mid-20s to 50 and oc­ca­sion­ally bey­ond, fleet­ing grid­iron glory is the least of the many reas­ons they choose to suit up in full pads five or six times each spring and com­pete in the full-con­tact Na­tion­al Pub­lic Safety Foot­ball League.

Rather, they take the 60-minute beat­ings with pub­lic ser­vice in mind, rais­ing money for nu­mer­ous causes. Earli­er this year, the non­profit club sur­passed $250,000 in char­it­able dona­tions since its 2003 found­ing. Stu­dents in need have re­ceived much of that fin­an­cial sup­port through the Sgt. Patrick Mc­Don­ald Schol­ar­ship Fund, which is named for the slain Philly po­lice of­ficer, him­self a former Blue Flame play­er.

In sup­port of the fund, the Blue Flame will host the fifth an­nu­al Sgt. Patrick Mc­Don­ald Me­mori­al Game at North­east High School this Sat­urday, tak­ing on an­oth­er NPSFL squad, the Cent­ral Texas Wolfpack. Kick­off will be at 1 p.m. Ad­mis­sion is $5.

“Pat, he was a run­ning back and he was tough, a small guy with a heart as big as a li­on,” said Joe Hans­bury, a Blue Flame co-founder and the club’s vice pres­id­ent. “He played big every game.”

Mc­Don­ald grew up in Mor­rell Park, played youth foot­ball with Liberty Bell A.A. and was an All-Cath­ol­ic line­man for Arch­bish­op Ry­an. He joined the po­lice de­part­ment in 2000, be­came a mem­ber of the elite High­way Patrol unit and was gunned down by a pa­roled ex-con­vict on a North Philly street on Sept. 23, 2008.

Mc­Don­ald’s par­ents, re­tired Phil­adelphia fire Capt. Larry Mc­Don­ald and Pa­tri­cia “Patsy” Mc­Don­ald, along with fam­ily and friends cre­ated the schol­ar­ship fund soon after. Larry Mc­Don­ald passed away in 2010 while in train­ing for a char­ity bi­cycle ride. The Mc­Don­ald Fund provides schol­ar­ship money based on need to stu­dents at­tend­ing grade schools, high schools and col­leges. In­form­a­tion is avail­able via www.sgt­patrick­m­c­don­ald­fund.org.

“In the years since Pat was killed, we’ve giv­en over $150,000 in schol­ar­ships,” said Ter­rence Lappe, a mem­ber of the fund’s ex­ec­ut­ive board. “But it’s not just about the dol­lar amount. We’re proud we’ve been able to help so many kids.”

The Blue Flame has been an an­nu­al con­trib­ut­or.

“They’ve played a huge role in the schol­ar­ship fund with their gen­er­os­ity,” Lappe said. “Without their sup­port, we wouldn’t be able to help as many kids as we do.”

To this day, Blue Flame play­ers re­mem­ber Mc­Don­ald by wear­ing his “34” jer­sey num­ber on their uni­forms and chant­ing it as a ral­ly­ing cry. He re­mains an in­spir­a­tion, much like the na­tion­al tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, in­spired the team’s found­ing.

“After 9/11, I saw a TV show about the New York po­lice and fire de­part­ments play­ing a foot­ball game,” said Hans­bury, a patrol cop in the 8th dis­trict. “So I called them up to set up a char­ity game.”

Phil­adelphia did not have a tackle foot­ball team at the time. But that didn’t stop Hans­bury; his cous­in, Joe Get­ter; and friend Mike Fo­ley, a Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment lieu­ten­ant, from book­ing an ex­hib­i­tion game against a team of New York City pris­on guards.

They per­suaded vet­er­an high school coach John McAneney to take over the foot­ball op­er­a­tions and in­vited area cops and fire­fight­ers to try out for the squad. Hans­bury cred­its McAneney for bring­ing the team’s biggest sup­port­er on board, Blue Bell-based high­way con­struc­tion con­tract­or An­thony De­Paul, who now serves as the club’s pres­id­ent.

“We were go­ing out to try and get dona­tions to get the guys hel­mets,” Hans­bury said. “Then Tony De­Paul came on board and he has helped us im­mensely, not only by donat­ing to us, but also get­ting oth­er [spon­sors] on board.”

Those busi­ness spon­sors as well as the play­ers’ in­di­vidu­al fun­drais­ing ef­forts keep the pro­gram go­ing. The club or­gan­izes an­nu­al Po­lice vs. Fire am­a­teur-style box­ing ex­hib­i­tions, as well as so­cial events like “Coach Bag Bingo.” One time, the team even held a rub­ber duck race on Pennypack Creek. Po­lice Of­ficer Michelle Win­kis does a lot of the or­gan­iz­a­tion­al work these days and is like the team’s “den moth­er,” Hans­bury said.  All board mem­bers and coaches are vo­lun­teers.

The team has donated to the po­lice Sur­viv­ors Fund, the fire Wid­ows Fund, the Hero Thrill Show, the Na­tion­al Kid­ney Found­a­tion, the Pe­gas­us Rid­ing Academy, a camp for spe­cial needs chil­dren, an aut­ism sup­port group, the Frank­ford Char­gers youth foot­ball club and a toys-for-tots cam­paign at two of the city’s chil­dren’s hos­pit­als, among oth­er causes.

“In some cases, it may not be a lot of money to some or­gan­iz­a­tions, even though it’s everything we raise,” Get­ter said. “But every bit helps.”

On the foot­ball side of things, McAneney stepped aside after a few years and left the reins to his of­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or, Mike McKay. McKay still has the job and re­cently be­came head coach at Fath­er Judge High School.

A hodge­podge roster of 20-somethings and 40-somethings, some with col­lege ex­per­i­ence and some with al­most no play­ing ex­per­i­ence, meshed pretty quickly after the first few prac­tices in early 2003.

“We filled the roles well enough to take the doubts away from a lot of play­ers’ minds,” Hans­bury said. “There were doubts un­til we went up to New York and walked onto the field 65 strong.”

The Blue Flame soon earned an in­vit­a­tion in­to the NPSFL. Today, the 17-year-old league has more than two dozen teams from throughout the coun­try. Over the years, the Blue Flame has amassed a win­ning re­cord and played in some ma­jor ven­ues, in­clud­ing the Rose Bowl, Lin­coln Fin­an­cial Field and Chica­go’s Sol­dier Field. The team even traveled to Ire­land in 2009 for a game. Play­ers paid their own ex­penses and treated Mc­Don­ald’s par­ents to the trip.

“We’ve played every­where from big sta­di­ums to a little sandy, dusty field in Hou­s­ton and a bog in Ire­land,” said Hans­bury.

Re­gard­less of the arena, the play­ers ap­proach the games with the en­thu­si­asm of rook­ies and the des­per­a­tion of vet­er­ans seek­ing one last mo­ment in the sun.

“It can be tough to get them to prac­tices with their work [sched­ules] and their chil­dren, but they give up things in their lives to do this,” Hans­bury said. “It’s tough be­ing a 40-year-old man and get­ting up the next day [after a game] to go to work.

“They do it just to get that second chance to play. And to do it for char­ity makes it even bet­ter.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus