When you think about it, hockey players and police officers have a great deal in common: They are tough physically and mentally, while also boasting big hearts.
That is certainly true of the organizers and participants of the Cops for K.O.P.S. Charity Hockey Game in Hershey, Pa. The eight-year event has raised about $140,000, according to its founder and spokesman Pat O’Rourke. The money has gone to help several dozen families of officers killed in the line of duty.
“We started it on a whim, and it’s become an awesome way to give the kids and families a break from the grief they are suffering,” O’Rourke said, noting that K.O.P.S. stands for Keep Our Pipes Silent. “It’s a different kind of family we have for them; we believe they should be taken care of going forward.”
The silent pipes reference alludes to the beautiful, though haunting, playing of bagpipes at the services of fallen officers. There is also a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” with the instrument played prior to the K.O.P.S. game for the fallen officers of that year.
This year the group honored three Pennsylvania men who died in the line of duty: Patrolman Edward Wehe of the Delaware County Park Police, Sgt. John LaRose of the Pa. State Police and Patrolman Jerry McCarthy of the Shenango Township Police Department.
The game touches and affects more than just the lives of the families of fallen officers, who are showered with hockey shirts, pucks and sticks donated by area minor league and professional franchises before the game. The participants of the latest contest, which took place Dec. 14 at Giant Center, included federal marshals, postal inspectors and probation officers.
Former American Hockey League and National Hockey League players also take part, including Mitch Lamoureux. The former Hershey Bears star, who went on to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, skated on the same line as his son, Corey, an attorney.
“The reception the game has been given has been great, and it’s a tremendous cause,” said Lamoureux, the director of business development for a credit union. “It’s a humbling experience, and law enforcement is close to my heart because my brother Mike Baughman is the Chief Deputy United States Marshal for Western Pennsylvania.”
Along with strong players such as Lamoureux, the game also boasts top officials in Paul Devorski from the NHL as well as Dan Clemente, Jeff Jones and Tom “Punky” O’Connell from USA Hockey and minor leagues. Along with presenting roses to the widows of fallen officers in a touching pre-game ceremony, Santa Claus makes a visit to their children, and Mite hockey players take to the ice in-between periods as well to show off their skills.
Another of the game’s coordinators, Gary Baylor, said everyone involved with the event has become part of an extended family. And it’s growing as well, with officers coming from different states, including nearby New York, to participate.
Baylor credits the Internet for raising awareness of the cause, as the event boasts an impressive Facebook page and Twitter has propelled it as well along with local television stations such as ABC27 in nearby Harrisburg.
“The explosion of social media has ramped up donations, even from other cities like Chicago,” Baylor said.
“Guys have fun playing the game itself, but they know what we’re here for,” Baylor said. “We’re not into this for the fame or glory, we do it for the families and the love of the game.”
Donations can be mailed to Cops for K.O.P.S. c/o the Derry Township Police Department, 620 Clearwater Road, Hershey, Pa. 17033.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.